To gain a better understanding of push-off mechanics in speed skating, forward simulations were performed with a model comprising four body segments and six muscles. We started with a simulated maximum height one-legged jump, obtained by optimization of muscle stimulation time histories. The simulated jump was very similar to one-legged jumps produced by a human, indicating that the model was realistic. We subsequently studied how performance was affected by introducing four conditions characteristic of speed skating: (a) We changed the initial position from that in jumping to that at the start of the push-off phase in skating. This change was accommodated by a delay in stimulation onset of the plantar flexors in the optimal solution. (b) The friction between foot and ground was reduced to zero. As a result, maximum jump height decreased by 1.2 cm and performance became more sensitive to errors in muscle stimulation. The reason is that without surface friction, the foot had to be prevented from slipping away, which constrained the solution space and reduced the tolerance to errors in stimulation. (c) We introduced the requirement to maintain the upper body in a more or less horizontal position. This change could be accommodated by a delay in stimulation onset of the hamstrings, which inevitably caused a reduction in maximum jump height by 11.6 cm. (d) We increased the effective foot length from 16.5 cm, representative of jumping, to 20.5 cm, representative of skating with klapskates. At the 20.5-cm foot length, rotation of the foot did not start during the buildup of plantar flexion moment as it did at smaller foot lengths, but was delayed until hip and knee extension moments decreased. This caused an unbalanced increase in segment angular velocities and muscle shortening velocities, leading to a decrease in muscle force and muscle work and a further decrease in maximum jump height by approximately 5 cm. Qualitatively, these findings help clarify why and how performance of speed skaters depends on the location of the hinge of their skate.
The authors are with the Institute for Fundamental and Clinical Human Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, Van der Boechorststraat 9, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands.