Optimizing the Distribution of Leg Muscles for Vertical Jumping

PLoS One. 2016 Feb 26;11(2):e0150019. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150019. eCollection 2016.

Abstract

A goal of biomechanics and motor control is to understand the design of the human musculoskeletal system. Here we investigated human functional morphology by making predictions about the muscle volume distribution that is optimal for a specific motor task. We examined a well-studied and relatively simple human movement, vertical jumping. We investigated how high a human could jump if muscle volume were optimized for jumping, and determined how the optimal parameters improve performance. We used a four-link inverted pendulum model of human vertical jumping actuated by Hill-type muscles, that well-approximates skilled human performance. We optimized muscle volume by allowing the cross-sectional area and muscle fiber optimum length to be changed for each muscle, while maintaining constant total muscle volume. We observed, perhaps surprisingly, that the reference model, based on human anthropometric data, is relatively good for vertical jumping; it achieves 90% of the jump height predicted by a model with muscles designed specifically for jumping. Alteration of cross-sectional areas-which determine the maximum force deliverable by the muscles-constitutes the majority of improvement to jump height. The optimal distribution results in large vastus, gastrocnemius and hamstrings muscles that deliver more work, while producing a kinematic pattern essentially identical to the reference model. Work output is increased by removing muscle from rectus femoris, which cannot do work on the skeleton given its moment arm at the hip and the joint excursions during push-off. The gluteus composes a disproportionate amount of muscle volume and jump height is improved by moving it to other muscles. This approach represents a way to test hypotheses about optimal human functional morphology. Future studies may extend this approach to address other morphological questions in ethological tasks such as locomotion, and feature other sets of parameters such as properties of the skeletal segments.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / physiology
  • Leg / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology

Grant support

This work was supported by Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research #5552 (JDW), European Union Seventh Framework Programme for Research #CORDIS FP7-PEOPLE-2011-CIG-303849(DAK), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada #RGPIN-238338 (PLG), and Canadian Institutes of Health Research #MOP-53296 (PLG). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.