Balancing on a narrow ridge: biomechanics and control

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1999 May 29;354(1385):869-75. doi: 10.1098/rstb.1999.0439.


The balance of standing humans is usually explained by the inverted pendulum model. The subject invokes a horizontal ground-reaction force in this model and controls it by changing the location of the centre of pressure under the foot or feet. In experiments I showed that humans are able to stand on a ridge of only a few millimetres wide on one foot for a few minutes. In the present paper I investigate whether the inverted pendulum model is able to explain this achievement. I found that the centre of mass of the subjects sways beyond the surface of support, rendering the inverted pendulum model inadequate. Using inverse simulations of the dynamics of the human body, I found that hip-joint moments of the stance leg are used to vary the horizontal component of the ground-reaction force. This force brings the centre of mass back over the surface of support. The subjects generate moments of force at the hip-joint of the swing leg, at the shoulder-joints and at the neck. These moments work in conjunction with a hip strategy of the stance leg to limit the angular acceleration of the head-arms-trunk complex. The synchrony of the variation in moments suggests that subjects use a motor programme rather than long latency reflexes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Foot
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Posture / physiology*