European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 119, Issue 9, pp 1981–1999 | Cite as

The relationship between leg stiffness, forces and neural control of the leg musculature during the stretch-shortening cycle is dependent on the anticipation of drop height

  • Michael HelmEmail author
  • Kathrin Freyler
  • Janice Waldvogel
  • Albert Gollhofer
  • Ramona Ritzmann
Original Article



This study aimed at investigating how prior knowledge of drop heights affects proactive and reactive motor control in drop jumps (DJ).


In 22 subjects, the effect of knowledge of three different drop heights (20, 30, 40 cm) during DJs was evaluated in seven conditions: three different drop heights were either known, unknown or cheated (announced 40 cm, but actual drop height was 20 cm). Peak ground reaction force (Fmax) to body weight (BW) ratio (Fmax/BW) and electromyographic (EMG) activities of three shank and five thigh muscles were assessed 150 ms before and during ground contact (GC). Ankle, knee and hip joint kinematics were recorded in the sagittal plane.


Leg stiffness, proactive and reactive EMG activity of the leg muscles diminished in unknown and cheat conditions for all drop heights (7–33% and 2–26%, respectively). Antagonistic co-activation increased in unknown (3–37%). At touchdown, increased flexion in knee (~ 5.3° ± 1.9°) and hip extension (~ 2° ± 0.6°) were observed in unknown, followed by an increased angular excursion in hip (~ 2.3° ± 0.2°) and knee joints (~ 5.6° ± 0.2°) during GC (p < 0.05). Correlations between changes in activation intensities, joint kinematics, leg stiffness and Fmax/BW (p < 0.05) indicate that anticipation changes the neuromechanical coupling of DJs. No dropouts were recorded.


These findings underline that anticipation influences timing and adjustment of motor responses. It is argued that proactive and reactive modulations associated with diminished activation intensities in leg extensors are functionally relevant in explaining changes in leg stiffness and subsequent decline in performance.


Neuromuscular Jump Electromyography Reactive Fmax Prediction Unpredicted 



M. biceps femoris


Body weight


Central nervous system


Center of mass


Drop jump


Peak ground reaction force


Ground contact


Ground contact time


M. gastrocnemius lateralis


M. gluteus maximus


Integrated electromyographic activity


Late-latency response


Medium-latency response


Muscle tendon unit


Maximal voluntary contraction




M. rectus femoris


Repeated-measures analysis of variance


Standard deviation


Short-latency response


M. soleus


Stretch-shortening cycle


M. tibialis anterior


M. vastus lateralis


M. vastus medialis



This study was funded by the German Aerospace Center (DLR, FKZ 50WB1715).

Author contributions

MH designed and conducted the experiment, collected and analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. KF designed the experiment, analysed data and edited manuscript. JW collected data, designed and conducted the experiment and analysed data. AB designed the experiment and edited manuscript. RR designed the experiment, analysed data and edited manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest related to this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Helm
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kathrin Freyler
    • 1
  • Janice Waldvogel
    • 1
  • Albert Gollhofer
    • 1
  • Ramona Ritzmann
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Sport and Sport ScienceUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany

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