Ability of the planar spring-mass model to predict mechanical parameters in running humans

J Theor Biol. 2007 Oct 21;248(4):686-95. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2007.06.004. Epub 2007 Jun 11.


The planar spring-mass model is a simple mathematical model of bouncing gaits, such as running, trotting and hopping. Although this model has been widely used in the study of locomotion, its accuracy in predicting locomotor mechanics has not been systematically quantified. We determined the percent error of the model in predicting 10 locomotor parameters in running humans by comparing the model predictions to experimental data from humans running in normal gravity and simulated reduced gravity. We tested the hypotheses that the model would overestimate horizontal impulse and the change in mechanical energy of the centre of mass (COM) during stance. The model provided good predictions of stance time, vertical impulse, contact length, duty factor, relative stride length and relative peak force. All predictions of these parameters were within 20% of measured values and at least 90% of predictions of each parameter were within 10% of measured values (median absolute errors: <7%). This suggests that the model incorporates all features of running humans that have a significant influence upon these six parameters. As simulated gravity level decreased, the magnitude of the errors in predicting each of these parameters either decreased or stayed constant, indicating that this is a good model of running in simulated reduced gravity. As hypothesised, horizontal impulse and change in mechanical energy of the COM during stance were overestimated (median absolute errors: 43.6% and 26.2%, respectively). Aerial time and peak vertical COM displacement during stance were also systematically overestimated (median absolute errors: 17.7% and 22.9%, respectively). Care should be taken to ensure that the model is used only to investigate parameters which it can predict accurately. It would be useful to extend this analysis to other species and gaits.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Gait
  • Gravitation
  • Humans
  • Hypogravity
  • Models, Biological*
  • Running / physiology*