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Scand J Med Sci Sports 2008: 18: 417–426 Copyright & 2008 The Authors

Printed in Singapore . All rights reserved Journal compilation & 2008 Blackwell Munksgaard
DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2008.00769.x

Review

A review of research on the mechanical stiffness in running and


jumping: methodology and implications
M. Brughelli1, J. Cronin1,2
1
School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, WA 6027, Australia, 2Institute of Sport
and Recreation Research New Zealand, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland 1020, New Zealand
Corresponding author: M. Brughelli, School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, 100
Joondalup Drive, Joondalup, Western Australia 6027. Tel: 0061 86304 5152, Fax: 0061 86304 5036, E-mail: m.brugh-
elli@ecu.edu.au
Accepted for publication 6 December 2007

Mechanical stiffness (vertical, leg and joint stiffness) can be human running). In addition to reviewing the available
calculated during normal human movements, such as run- literature on the relationships between mechanical stiffness
ning and hopping. Mechanical stiffness is thought to influ- (calculated during human running) and functional perfor-
ence several athletic variables, including rate of force mance, this review focuses its discussion on the various
development, elastic energy storage and utilization and equipment and methods used to calculate leg-spring stiffness
sprint kinematics. Consequently, the relationship between during human running. Furthermore, future implications are
mechanical stiffness and athletic performance is of great presented for practitioners and researchers based on both
interest to the sport and research communities. Unfortu- the limitations and the gaps in the literature reviewed. It is
nately, these relationships are relatively unexplored by our hope that a better understanding of mechanical stiffness
researchers. For example, there are no longitudinal studies will aid in improving the methodological quality of research
that have investigated the effects of strength or power in this area and its subsequent effect on athletic perfor-
training on mechanical stiffness levels (calculated during mance.

Stiffness is often defined as the resistance of an have greater leg compliance than non-elite high
object or a body to a change in length (McMahon jumpers (Laffaye et al., 2005). Unfortunately, there
& Cheng, 1990; Cavagna et al., 1991; Seyfarth et al., have not been any longitudinal training studies that
2002). It is thought that the mechanical stiffness in have investigated the effects of training on mechan-
the human leg has a major influence on various ical stiffness during human running. Nor has any
athletic variables, including the following: rate of research been performed on the effects of different
force development, elastic energy storage and utili- mechanical stiffness levels (induced by a training
zation and sprint kinematics (i.e. contact and flight intervention) on athletic performance. Until such
times, and stride length and frequency). However, research is conducted, the full importance of me-
the optimal mechanical stiffness required for move- chanical stiffness will remain unknown. This paper
ments such as running and jumping remains a topic reviews the relationships between vertical, leg and
of debate for the scientific and sport communities. joint stiffness (calculated during human running)
For example, a few authors have argued that greater and functional performance, i.e. running and jump-
mechanical stiffness would be beneficial for move- ing. In addition, other forms of stiffness (tendon,
ments such as running and jumping (Chelly & Denis, musculotendinous, and passive) that are thought to
2002; Butler et al., 2003). These arguments have influence functional performance are reviewed. Spe-
been based on studies that have shown that vertical cifically, this paper discusses: (1) the equipment used
and joint stiffness increase with running velocity and for calculating vertical, leg and joint stiffness during
jumping height (McMahon & Cheng, 1990; Farley et human running and (2) the various stiffness calcula-
al., 1991; He et al., 1991). Conversely, one mechan- tion methods used in the literature. We feel that
ical modelling study found that there is an optimal reviewing the literature in this area will provide a
mechanical stiffness for long jumping and that better understanding of mechanical stiffness, and
increasing this level would not enhance jump dis- will give valuable information on the directions
tance (Seyfarth et al., 2000). Furthermore, other that need to be taken for researchers and practi-
researchers have reported that elite high jumpers tioners in the future.

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Brughelli & Cronin
Equipment and stiffness problematic (e.g. marker placement movement), thus
making it difficult to measure the displacement of the
The most common types of equipment used for CM during running accurately. One of the main
calculating vertical, leg and joint stiffness during problems encountered is camera speed, which is
human running include film/video, force plates, kine- usually o120–240 frames/s. The contact phase of
matic arms, contact mats, and pressure sensors. Each high-speed running can be less than 100 ms. Thus, a
type of equipment has its strengths and weaknesses, camera that has a speed of 120 frames/s for 100 ms
which are the focus of this section. will only give 12 frames that can be digitized. This
can lead to gross underestimations of segment or CM
displacements.
Force plate
There is a paucity of research that has used video/
Force sensors (i.e. force plates and force transducers) film analysis to calculate vertical or leg stiffness.
have been used extensively in the literature for Luhtanen and Komi (1980), and (Mero and Komi
measuring leg, vertical and joint stiffness (Cavagna (1986) used a 13-segment rigid model and basic laws
et al., 1988; Belli et al., 1995). Ground reaction force of dynamics to determine vertical stiffness from film
(GRF) can be directly measured with a force plate. analysis. From these data, CM displacement was
Cavagna (1975) demonstrated how to calculate ver- calculated and ultimately vertical stiffness. Arampat-
tical CM velocity and vertical CM displacement with zis et al. (1999) used a 15-model rigid segment model,
single and double integrations of GRF. Because peak where only two segments (lower leg and upper leg)
GRF and maximum CM displacements can be mea- were used to measure the change in leg spring length,
sured (both occurring at mid-stance), vertical stiff- along with a force plate to measure GRF (Table 1).
ness can be calculated during running. With other
mechanical parameters (e.g. contact time and hor-
izontal velocity), leg stiffness can also be measured Kinematic arm
with a force plate (McMahon & Cheng, 1990).
However, force plates are very expensive and difficult Another piece of equipment that has been used to
to transport. Also, the number of steps that can be measure the displacements of the center of mass has
taken is limited with ground-mounted force plates. been termed the kinematic arm (Belli et al., 1995).
One way to increase the number of strides that can be The kinematic arm is made up of four light rigid bars
analyzed is to use multiple force plates in a row. that are linked by three joints, with the distal end
Cavagna (1975) used a force plate made up of eight attached to the subject while running or walking on a
individual force plates in series. However, not many treadmill. One end of the arm is connected to a
facilities have access to multiple force plates; thus, reference point and the other end (which is attached
the number of studies using them is limited. to the subject) is allowed to move freely in all three
Treadmills fitted on top of force plates or force planes. With given arm (bar) lengths and angles, by
transducers are becoming more prevalent in research measuring the angles between bars using electrical
designs. The benefit of using a force-sensing treadmill potentiometers, the instantaneous position of the
is that multiple steps can be measured and analyzed moving end relative to the reference end can be
easily. The subjects can run for longer distances and calculated. The kinematic arm allows for recordings
obtain constant velocities over different trials. Kram of body displacement in all three planes.
et al. (1998) used force-sensing treadmill that could
measure all three planes (vertical, horizontal, trans-
verse) during multiple strides. Contact mats and pressure sensors
More recently, simple methods of calculating vertical
stiffness and leg stiffness have been proposed using
Film/video only a contact mat or pressure sensors (placed under
Film/video analysis is often used for recording dis- the insoles of shoes). Vertical stiffness during hop-
placements, velocities, and accelerations of various ping and running has been calculated from contact
segments or joints (Cavanagh et al., 1977; Vagenas & time, aerial time, and body mass with the use of a
Hoshizaki, 1992). Film/video analysis, in combina- single contact mat (Dalleau et al., 2004; Morin et al.,
tion with force plate analysis, can also be used to 2005). Leg stiffness during running has been calcu-
measure joint moments and ultimately joint stiffness lated from leg length, forward velocity, body mass,
(joint moment/joint displacement). However, the contact times, and aerial times. The pressure sensors
digitizing process requires a considerable time, espe- were used to calculate contact and aerial times, and a
cially if there are large subject numbers or move- radar gun was used to measure velocity (Morin et al.,
ments are of a long duration. The ‘‘noise’’ associated 2006). The benefit of using contact mats or pressure
with film or video data analyses is considered to be sensors is that they are accessible to professionals in

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Mechanical stiffness
Table 1. Vertical and leg stiffness calculations

Study and stiffness type Equipment needed Formula

Vertical stiffness
McMahon and Cheng (1990) Force plate kvert 5 Fmax/Dy
where Fmax, maximum vertical force; Dy, maximum vertical displacement of
center of mass
McMahon et al. (1987) Force plate kvert 5 mo2
where m, mass of body; o, natural frequency of oscillation
Cavagna et al. (1988) Force plate kvert 5 m(2P/P)2
where m, mass of the body; P, period of oscillation
Morin et al. (2005) Pressure sensors kvert/m 5 (P(Tv1Tc))/(T2c(((Tv1Tc)/P)) (Tc/4)))
where Tv, flight time, Tc, contact time, and m, mass of body
Leg stiffness
McMahon and Cheng (1990) Force plate kleg 5 Fmax/DL
where Fmax, maximum vertical force; DL 5 Dy1L (1 cosy); y 5 sin (vTc/
2L); Dy, vertical displacement of the center of mass; v, forward velocity; L,
initial leg length
Morin et al. (2005) Pressure sensors kleg 5 L (L2 ((vTc/2)).051Dy
where L, initial leg length; v, velocity; Tc, contact time;Dy, maximum vertical
displacement of center of mass
Arampatzis et al. (1999) Force plate and high-speed kleg 5 Fmax/DVCL
video cameras where Fmax, maximum vertical force; VCL, change is leg length derived from
video analysis

the field, they are easy to use and are less expensive The formula used by McMahon was: vertical stiff-
than the other equipment. ness (kvert) equals mass (m) multiplied by the square
of the natural frequency of oscillation (o). A force
plate was used to calculate the vertical force – contact
Calculating stiffness time curve (F/t curve). From the F/t curve, vertical
Vertical stiffness velocity could be calculated (single integration). With
There are four published methods for calculating contact time and vertical velocity, the natural fre-
vertical stiffness during human running. The McMa- quency of oscillation (o) was calculated and ulti-
hon and Cheng (1990) vertical stiffness method mately vertical stiffness was calculated (kvert 5 mo2).
(VSM) is the first and most commonly used method. Since McMahon et al. (1987), there have been no
This method requires only two mechanical para- other studies that have calculated vertical stiffness
meters: maximum vertical force and maximum ver- during human running with this method.
tical displacement of the CM (both are assumed to The third method for calculating vertical stiffness
reach maximum levels during the mid-stance phase). was used by Cavagna et al. (1988). Like the previous
Vertical stiffness is equal to peak vertical force two methods, a force plate is required from which the
divided by the maximum vertical displacement. F/t curve is generated and used to determine the
Cavagna (1975) was the first to show how force effective contact time (tce). The effective contact time
sensors could be used to calculate CM vertical refers to the amount of time that vertical force is
displacement from vertical force. Because force is greater than body weight during the stance phase,
equal to mass multiplied by acceleration and because and is expressed as (P/2) where P equals the period of
mass remains constant, vertical force can be graphed oscillation (see Fig. 1). The natural frequency of
as vertical acceleration. Then, vertical acceleration oscillation can be calculated from (P/2) with
can be integrated to produce vertical velocity (single o 5 2P/P. Then, vertical stiffness can be calculated
integration), and then vertical velocity can be inte- as kvert 5 mo2. Ultimately, the formulas used by
grated to produce vertical displacement of the CM McMahon et al. (1987) and (Cavagna et al. (1988)
(double integration). It should be noted that K refers are the same. The two differences are in how they
to dimensionless stiffness as defined by McMahon & calculated the natural frequency of oscillation, and
Cheng (1990), and k refers to dimensional stiffness. dimensionless group of numbers (i.e. groucho
The advantage of using dimensionless numbers and number) used by (McMahon et al. (1987). Since
calculations is that a wide range of animals and body Cavagna et al. (1988), only two other studies have
sizes could be compared on an equivalent basis, as used this method for calculating vertical stiffness
first proposed by Alexander (1976) in an attempt to during human running (Cavagna et al., 2005;
estimate the speeds of dinosaurs. Cavagna, 2006), and one study used this method to
The second method for calculating vertical stiff- calculate vertical stiffness during human hopping
ness was detailed by McMahon et al. (1987) VSM. (Farley et al., 1991).

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Brughelli & Cronin
to moderate velocities (  5.0 m/s) (He et al., 1991;

Vertical Force (body weight)


Farley et al., 1993; Morin et al., 2005). The reason
3 why leg stiffness does not increase is because as the
maximum vertical force increases, the change in leg
2
spring length also increases.
The Morin et al. (2005) leg stiffness method (LSM)
used initial leg length and forward velocity to calcu-
1 late the change in leg spring length. Running velocity
Half period of oscillation was measured with a radar gun, and the initial leg
(P/T) length was measured from the greater trochanter to
the ground. The results of Morin et al. (2005) were
0 0.3 compared with that of a reference method (McMa-
Time (sec) hon & Cheng, 1990). The stiffness values of Morin
Fig. 1. Force–time curve relative to body mass. Schematic et al. (2005) were found to range from 0.67% to
representation of the half-period of oscillation in the force– 6.93% less than those of McMahon and Cheng
time curve. The half-period of oscillation is measured as the (1990) and thus were reported to be acceptable.
time when force is above body weight during the stance The advantage of using the Morin et al. (2005)
phase of a bouncing gat. formulae is that stiffness values can be calculated
without the use of force plates or force transducers.
A third method for calculating leg stiffness was
The fourth method for calculating vertical stiffness described by (Arampatzis et al. (1999). Vertical force
during human running was described by Morin et al. was first measured with a force plate. Then, leg
(2005). This is the only method that does not require stiffness was calculated and the results were com-
a force plate or a force transducer. With this method, pared with those of McMahon and Cheng (1990).
only contact time, aerial time and body mass are However, Arampatzis et al. (1999) measured the
needed for calculating vertical stiffness. Contact and change in leg length (a two segment model from the
aerial times were measured with two pressure sensors hip joint to the knee joint to the ankle joint) with a
that were taped under the insole of each shoe. Morin high-speed video, and reported much greater leg
et al. (2005) calculated vertical stiffness by modelling stiffness values (435 kN/m) compared with leg stiff-
vertical force as a sine wave, which was first intro- ness values reported with the McMahon LSM
duced by Alexander (1989, 1992). The authors (o20 kN/m) (McMahon & Cheng, 1990; He et al.,
argued that this method was appropriate because 1991; Farley & González, 1996; Morin et al., 2005).
force levels of a linear spring-mass model (once The differences between these two studies could be
perturbed) are expected to oscillate in the form of a explained by either a slow camera speed (thus under-
sine wave. From the sine wave, maximum vertical estimations of segment displacement) or by differ-
force and maximum vertical displacement were cal- ences in the measurements of leg length.
culated and thus vertical stiffness was calculated.
Joint stiffness
Leg stiffness Joint stiffness refers to the stiffness of an individual
Leg stiffness refers to the stiffness of the entire leg as joint and is calculated as the ratio of joint moment to
though it acts like a single linear spring. Running angular joint displacement. There have only been
velocity needs to be measured accurately for the first four studies that have calculated joint stiffness during
two-leg stiffness methods, which can be obtained human running (Stefanyshyn & Nigg, 1998; Ara-
from a treadmill or a radar gun. The first method mpatzis et al., 1999; Gunther & Blickhan, 2002;
for calculating leg stiffness was used by McMahon & Kuitunen et al., 2002). Three of these studies used
Cheng (1990). Vertical force was measured directly the same method for calculating joint stiffness
from a force plate. The change in leg spring length (Stefanyshyn & Nigg, 1998; Gunther & Blickhan,
was calculated from running velocity, leg length, leg 2002; Kuitunen et al., 2002). Force plates were used
landing angle, and the vertical displacement of the to measure vertical and horizontal forces, and high-
CM. The leg landing angle was calculated from speed video cameras were used for the kinematic
contact time, running velocity, and initial leg length. analysis. Retroreflective markers were placed on the
Leg stiffness was then calculated as the ratio of following anatomic landmarks: tip of the first toe,
maximum vertical force to the maximum change in fifth metatarsophalangeal joint, lateral malleolus,
leg length, which was measured during the stance lateral epicondyle of the femur, greater trochanter
phase from the CM to the foot. Leg stiffness has been and the acromion process of the scapulae. Once
reported to remain constant with running velocity up digitized, the marker-position data were used to

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Mechanical stiffness
calculate joint angular displacements, velocities, and culated with the oscillation technique (Wilson et al.,
accelerations. Joint moments for the hip, knee, and 1991, 1994; Walshe et al., 1996; Walshe & Wilson,
ankle were calculated from inverse dynamics. 1997). With this technique, an active and loaded
Anthropometric measurements were used to calcu- MTU was perturbed and the free response was
late segment masses, segment COM locations, and recorded; thus, the human muscle was modelled as
segment moments of inertia. Then a rigid linked- a damped spring system. Any perturbation to this
segment model was used to calculate the net muscle system will result in damped oscillations.
moments at the ankle, knee and hip joints. This Tendon stiffness has been calculated with the use
process involved applying equations of angular and of ultrasonography (Kubo et al., 1999, 2000,
translational motion to each segment, starting dis- 2001a, b). The stiffness of the tendon was calculated
tally and moving proximally. All three studies found as the slope of the force-tendon length curve. An
that ankle joint stiffness remained constant and knee isokinetic dynamometer was used to measure joint
joint stiffness increased with running speed. Thus, the torque, which was then converted to muscle force
conclusion was that knee joint stiffness is the major with the following formula: muscle force 5 stiffness
modulator of leg stiffness during running (Table 2). (k) multiplied by torque (T), multiplied by cross-
Arampatzis et al. (1999) introduced a different sectional area (CSA) of the chosen muscle group.
method for calculating joint stiffness during human Then, ultrasonography was used to measure tendon
running. Joint stiffness was calculated as the ratio of displacement. This technique has been used to calcu-
negative mechanical work to the change in joint late tendon stiffness for the quadriceps, hamstrings,
angle. Both kinetic and kinematic analyses were and plantar flexors.
used to determine work and the change in joint Passive stiffness has also been calculated with the
angle. However, this method has been questioned use of an isokinetic dynamometer (Reid & McNair,
recently. Gunther and Blickhan (2002) argued that it 2004; Gajdosik et al., 2005). The subjects were placed
was not reasonable to divide a work integral by a and secured in the dynamometer. Then, the chosen
change in joint angle in order to calculate stiffness. joint was taken through a range of motion while the
There have been no other studies that have used the subjects did not actively resist, which measured
formulae of Arampatzis et al. (1999) to calculate passive resistance torque. Stiffness was calculated as
joint stiffness during human running. the ratio of passive resistance torque to angular
displacement. Passive stiffness has been calculated
in the hamstrings (Reid & McNair, 2004) and plantar
Additional forms of stiffness flexors (Gajdosik et al., 2005).
There are additional forms of stiffness that are
thought to affect vertical, leg and joint stiffness
during human running: musculotendinous stiffness, Implications for future research and training
tendon stiffness, and passive stiffness. These stiffness Stiffness and functional performance
types will be discussed briefly in this section as they Farley et al. (1991) and Granata et al. (2002)
have each been linked to running performance. reported that vertical stiffness increased with hop-
Musculotendinous unit (MTU) stiffness can be cal- ping frequency when subjects hopped in the vertical

Table 2. Calculations for joint stiffness and additional stiffness types

Study and stiffness types Equipment needed Formula

Joint stiffness
Stefanyshyn and Nigg (1998) Force plate and high-speed kjoint 5 Jm/Jd
video camera where Jm, joint moment; Jk, joint angular displacement
Arampatzis et al. (1999) Force plate and high-speed kjoint 5 2W /Dy
video camera where W , negative mechanical work; Dy, change in angular
displacement
Musculotendinous stiffness
Wilson et al. (1991) Oscillation system kmus 5 4mf2p21c2/4m
where m, mass of the bar-weights system; f, damped natural frequency;
c, the damping coefficient
Tendon stiffness
Kubo et al. (1999) Ultrasonography and ktendon 5 Fmax/Dy Fmax, maximum force; Dy, change in angular
isokinetic dynamometer displacement
Passive stiffness
Reid and McNair (2004) Isokinetic dynamometer kp 5 Tp/Dy Where Tp, passive joint torque; Dy, change in angular
displacement

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Brughelli & Cronin
direction. Farley et al. (1991) reported that vertical did not correlate with the squat jump or counter-
stiffness increased by more than double (20–440 kN/m) movement jump performance. However, an inverse
as forward hopping speed increased from 1.0 to correlation was found between tendon stiffness and
3.0 m/s. The increase in vertical stiffness resulted the difference in jump height between the counter-
from a decrease in contact time and an increase in movement jump and squat jump (R 5 0.46). Kubo
the rate of force development during the stance et al. (2005) suggested that the combination of
phase. It was also reported that vertical stiffness greater storage of elastic energy (less tendon stiffness)
increased with hopping height. From these findings, and a greater re-use of elastic energy (less hysteresis)
it has been suggested that bilateral jumping height would have favorable effects on stretch–shorten
can be increased with greater levels of vertical stiff- cycle exercises. Bojsen-Møller et al. (2005) reported
ness (Butler et al., 2003). that tendon stiffness correlated to a greater degree
Arampatzis et al. (2001) studied the effects of with the squat jump (R 5 0.64) than the counter-
different landing heights (20–60 cm) on leg stiffness movement jump (R 5 0.55). However, their interpre-
during a rebound hop i.e. depth jump. Subjects were tation of the data was that becasue tendon stiffness
allocated to five groups based on how long they were correlated with both jumps, greater tendon stif-
instructed to remain on the ground (contact time) fness was desirable for both types of jumps. It
during the rebound. Arampatzis et al. (2001) found should be noted that passive stiffness and tendon
that leg stiffness decreased (15%) with landing height stiffness are independent of each other (Kubo et al.,
across all five groups. Walshe and Wilson (1997) 2001a, b).
reported similar results when comparing depth jump
ability of stiff subjects vs compliant subjects. It was
reported that the more compliant subjects had super- Correlation analysis and future directions
ior performances at the greater landing heights The relationship between human hopping in the
(60–80 cm), while there was no difference at lower vertical direction and sprint performance has been
landing heights (20 cm). investigated recently. The authors suggested that
Only two studies have examined the effects of there are similar basic mechanical features between
stiffness on single leg jumping performance (Seyfarth hopping in place and forward running (Bret et al.,
et al., 2000; Laffaye et al., 2005). Seyfarth et al. 2002; Chelly & Denis, 2002). Thus, both Chelly and
(2000) performed a simulation study using a mechan- Denis (2002) and Bret et al. (2002) investigated the
ical model during the stance phase of long jump. correlation between vertical stiffness during hopping
With this model, leg stiffness and the optimum take- and sprinting performance. It should be noted that
off angle could be manipulated. It was reported that correlations only signify relationships between vari-
there was a minimal level of leg stiffness (16.2 kN/m) ables and do not imply cause and effect. Bret et al.
required for maximizing jumping distance, and (2002) reported that vertical stiffness during hopping
increasing the leg stiffness did not result in longer was correlated (R 5 0.59) with maximum sprinting
jumps. Only one empirical study has investigated the velocity (from 30 to 60 m), but not with acceleration
effects of stiffness on single leg jumping performance (0–30 m) in elite sprinters. Chelly and Denis (2002)
(Laffaye et al., 2005). There were five groups of also found a significant correlation between vertical
subjects for this study: high jumpers, volleyball stiffness during hopping and maximum sprinting
players, basketball players, netball players, and five velocity (R 5 0.68), but not with acceleration. Both
novice jumpers. Laffaye et al. (2005) found that leg authors concluded that increasing leg stiffness may
stiffness decreased (15%) with jumping height in all enhance maximum sprinting velocity. However,
five groups. Thus, it appears that leg stiffness during these conclusions may not be accurate based on their
single leg jumping does not need to be increased in methodology. During human running, leg stiffness is
order to enhance performance. mainly modulated by knee joint stiffness (Gunther &
A number of studies have examined the relation- Blickhan, 2002; Kuitunen et al., 2002). There is
ship between tendon stiffness and jumping perfor- greater flexion and moment change in the knee joint
mance. Walshe and Wilson (1997) reported that relative to the hip and ankle joints during running.
MTU stiffness was inversely correlated with the Conversely, leg stiffness is mainly determined by
difference between the countermovement jump and ankle joint stiffness during human hopping (Farley
squat jump (R 5 0.54). This would suggest that a et al., 1998). All four studies that have calculated
tendon with less stiffness would be more able to store joint stiffness during human running reported that
and return elastic energy, thus having a favorable ankle joint stiffness remained constant and knee joint
effect on the countermovement jump. stiffness increased with running speed (Arampatzis
Ultrasonography has been used to determine ten- et al., 1999; Gunther & Blickhan, 2002; Kuitunen
don stiffness in vivo (Kubo et al., 1999, 2001a, b). et al., 2002; Stefanyshyn & Nigg, 1998). Thus,
Kubo et al. (1999) reported that tendon stiffness performing a correlation between human running

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Mechanical stiffness
and human hopping may not provided an insight into isometric (R 5 0.50) and concentric (R 5 0.54) rates
the relationship between stiffness and running perfor- of force development (Walshe et al., 1996) in the
mance. A better approach might be to investigate lower body. Wilson et al. (1994) reported even
correlations between vertical, leg or joint stiffness dur- greater correlations between MTU stiffness levels in
ing human running, with maximum running speed. the upper body with isometric and concentric rates of
It is well established that vertical and joint stiffness force development (R 5 0.57 and 0.78).
increase with running speed (He et al., 1991; Farley Kubo et al. (2006) investigated the effects of
et al., 1993; Gunther & Blickhan, 2002; Kuitunen isometric strength training (bilateral squat) on ten-
et al., 2002; Morin et al., 2005). Based on these don stiffness and jumping performance. After 14
findings, some authors have speculated that running weeks of isometric training, both tendon stiffness
speed might be enhanced with greater vertical or (14%) and squat jump height increased significantly
knee joint stiffness (Stefanyshyn & Nigg, 1998; Butler (4.9%). Countermovement jump height was not
et al., 2003). However, these speculations might be significantly altered; thus, the difference between
pre-mature because the effects of altering stiffness countermovement jump height and squat jump
levels (vertical, leg and joint) on running velocity are height decreased by 28.3%. The authors suggested
unknown. Furthermore, it is not known how training that an increase in tendon stiffness could negatively
could affect mechanical stiffness. Only one study has affect the pre-stretch in stretch–shorten cycle exer-
calculated correlations between stiffness and perfor- cises.
mance during human running (Morin et al., 2006) in Strength training has traditionally been used by
recreationally active male subjects (n 5 8). They did coaches and practitioners to enhance lower body
not find a significant correlation between vertical strength, power and sprint ability (especially the
stiffness and sprint times (average velocity) during acceleration phase). Unfortunately, there have been
the 100 m dash. Unfortunately, there have not been no studies that have investigated the effects of
no studies that have investigated correlations strength training on vertical, leg, or joint stiffness
between vertical, leg or joint stiffness (calculated (calculated during human running). A greater under-
during human running) with maximum running standing could be gained in this area if future studies
velocity in an athletic population. investigated the effects of strength training on both
It is also well established that leg stiffness remains stiffness and sprint performance. This would provide
constant from slow to moderate running speeds. an insight into how strength-induced changes in
With the exception of Arampatzis et al. (1999), all stiffness (vertical, leg, and joint) affect sprint perfor-
of the studies that have calculated leg stiffness mance.
during running (He et al., 1991; Farley et al., 1993;
Avogadro et al., 2004; Cavagna et al., 2005; Morin
et al., 2005) have reported that leg stiffness remains
constant with increasing running velocity at slow to Effects of power training on stiffness
moderate velocities. The effect of greater running There are more studies appearing in the literature on
speeds on leg stiffness is not known. Similar to the effect of power training on stiffness and other
vertical and joint stiffness, there have been no factors related to stiffness. Specific power training
studies on the effects of training of leg stiffness, or usually involves jumps, weighted jumps, dynamic
on how manipulating leg stiffness could affect run- resistance training or plyometric exercises. Cornu
ning speed. and Goubel (1997) reported that after seven weeks
of power training, active stiffness decreased by
32.7% but passive stiffness increased by 58.2%.
Effects of strength training on stiffness From a functional point of view, Cornu and
Many authors have suggested that greater values of Goubel (1997) speculated that an increase in passive
MT stiffness are advantageous for sprint perfor- stiffness would be desirable for rate of force devel-
mance (Komi, 1986; Mero et al., 1992; Butler et al., opment and a simultaneous decrease in active stiff-
2003). A stiffer MTU is thought to enhance the rate ness would be desirable for storing and re-using
of force development, which would aid in events that elastic energy.
require maximum force production over very short Hunter and Marshall (2002) reported that after
time periods (i.e. the stance phase in sprinting). It has 6 weeks of power training, eccentric lower body
been suggested that one of the purposes of strength stiffness decreased (1.1–2.3%) calculated from their
training was to increase the stiffness of the MTU subjects performing depth jumps at heights of 30, 60
(Komi, 1986). Wilson et al. (1991) reported that the and 90 cm. Also, eccentric lower body stiffness
load lifted by their subjects (bench press) was sig- increased (1.8%) during countermovement jump
nificantly correlated with MTU stiffness. MTU stiff- assessment. The different results could be due to the
ness has also been reported to correlate with requirements of the specific jump being performed.

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Brughelli & Cronin
Only one study has investigated the effects of performance will remain a topic of confusion and
physical training on vertical stiffness and jumping controversy.
performance. Toumi et al. (2004) investigated the
effects of complex training (plyometrics combined
with the leg press machine) on vertical stiffness and
jump performance. After six weeks of training, squat Effects of eccentric exercise on stiffness
jump height increased by 11.3%, countermovement Eccentric exercise has been reported to affect passive
jump height increased by 13.2% and knee joint stiffness and has been associated with enhancing
stiffness increased by 8.2%. Because both strength sprint performance. Reich et al. (2000) reported
and power exercises were used, it is difficult to that an eccentric-based exercise program increased
disentangle the cause of these adaptations. passive stiffness and the length of optimum length of
Specific power training programs have also been force development in rats. The increase in passive
used in order to change muscle architecture (fascicle stiffness after eccentric exercise has also been
length) (Blazevich et al., 2003; Alegre et al., 2006), reported in humans. Pousson et al. (1990) reported
which is thought to influence MTU stiffness and an increase in passive stiffness after eccentrically
human running performance. A change in fascicle training the elbow flexors. The increase in passive
length to longer lengths would have implications for stiffness was thought to be due to an increase in titin
the force–length relationship. The change in length is filament expression, which is responsible for the
thought to be due to sarcomereogenesis, or an majority of passive tension at longer muscle lengths
addition of sarcomeres in series, which would shift (Reich et al., 2000). It has been suggested that
the length–tension relationship to longer lengths eccentric exercise causes an increase in passive stiff-
(Alegre et al., 2006). It has been speculated that ness (due to the titin filament), which could enhance
this change to the length-tension relationship would athletic performance during running and jumping
allow the muscle to operate at its optimum length (Reich et al., 2000; Lindstedt et al., 2002; LaStayo
(i.e. joint angle) for longer periods, thus resulting in et al., 2003).
greater force outputs at higher rates (Alegre et al., Eccentric exercise has also been reported to
2006). It has been reported that elite male and female increase the optimum length of force development
sprinters have longer fascicle lengths than non-elite and induce sarcomereogenesis. It could be speculated
male (Kumagai et al., 2000) and female sprinters that eccentric exercise could also cause an increase in
(Abe et al., 2001). fascicle length. All of these adaptations would cause
Alegre et al. (2006) investigated the effects of alterations in MTU stiffness, and possibly vertical,
power training on fascicle length of the vastus leg and joint stiffness during human running. More
lateralis. The exercise protocol consisted of half- research is needed on the effects of eccentric exercise
squats performed at 30% to 460% of the subject’s on stiffness and running performance.
one rep maximum (1RM). At the end of the study, Similar to power and strength training, the effects
the subjects increased their fascicle length (13%), of eccentric training on stiffness have not been
muscle thickness (6.9%), rate of force development studied. Future studies should investigate the effects
(23%), and amount of force produced in the first of various training methods, including eccentric
500 ms (11.7%). Blazevich et al. (2003) reported training, on stiffness (vertical, leg, and joint) and
similar findings when performing power training how these changes affect sprint performance.
with light loads at high velocities. Fascicle length Mechanical stiffness can be calculated during nor-
increased by (24.9%) after 5 weeks of sprint and mal human movements and thus has been an area of
jump training; however, neither sprint nor jump interest for researchers and practitioners for many
performance increased. The lack of change in the years. It is thought that the mechanical stiffness has a
athletic performance measures could be due to the major influence on functional performance. However,
short intervention period (5 weeks) or the concurrent the optimal amount of stiffness required for move-
in-season training the subjects were already perform- ments such as running and jumping remains contro-
ing. More research is needed in this area with longer versial. Consequently, experimental research that
training periods taking place outside of the training investigates the effects of strength and power training
season. on stiffness levels needs to be conducted. Further-
Power training has been shown to be effective at more, research needs to investigate the influence that
enhancing sprint and jumping performance. How- these changes will have on performance. Currently,
ever, it is not known how power training affects the optimum amount of stiffness levels for functional
vertical, leg or joint stiffness. Nor is it known how performance is based on correlation analysis and thus
these changes might affect sprint performance. Until should be considered to be speculative at best.
training studies investigate how stiffness can be
altered with training, the effects of stiffness on sprint Key words: stiffness, spring, running, jumping.

424
Mechanical stiffness
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