On the Organizing Role of Nonmuscular Forces during Performance of a Giant Circle in Gymnastics

  • Sevrez Violaine
  • Rao Guillaume
  • Berton Eric
  • Bootsma Reinoud J.

  • Additional loads
  • Simulation
  • Coordination
  • Open-chain movement


Five elite gymnasts performed giant circles on the high bar under different conditions of loading (without and with 6-kg loads attached to the shoulders, waist or ankles). Comparing the gymnasts' kinematic pattern of movement with that of a triple-pendulum moving under the sole influence of nonmuscular forces revealed qualitative similarities, including the adoption of an arched position during the downswing and a piked position during the upswing. The structuring role of nonmuscular forces in the organization of movement was further reinforced by the results of an inverse dynamics analysis, assessing the contributions of gravitational, inertial and muscular components to the net joint torques. Adding loads at the level of the shoulders, waist or ankles systematically influenced movement kinematics and net joint torques. However, with the loads attached at the level of the shoulders or waist, the load-induced changes in gravitational and inertial torques provided the required increase in net joint torque, thereby allowing the muscular torques to remain unchanged. With the loads attached at the level of the ankles, this was no longer the case and the gymnasts increased the muscular torques at the shoulder and hip joints. Together, these results demonstrate that expert gymnasts skillfully exploit the operative nonmuscular forces, employing muscle force only in the capacity of complementary forces needed to perform the task.