April 2, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Running Is a Complex Balance of Rapid Reflexes

If you thought about how complex running is while running, you might trip and fall over. Read this while sitting down.

Some of the motions we make while running we make consciously. Many others, however, take place automatically. A young doctoral student at Ohio State University looked into the complexity of running, and found that “the human body constantly corrects to stay on its feet.”

“You might think running is just a repetition of identical steps, and it might look like that to the naked eye,” said Nidhi Seethapathi, lead author of the study. “But actually, there are really small errors that happen when you run, and you have to constantly correct to avoid falling down. Our muscles and our senses are not perfect, and that leads to errors. If we didn’t correct for these self-generated errors, we would fall. Our study investigates how people correct such errors.”

The corrections are not made in one part of the body, but all over: arms, legs, feet, torso, head – and of course, the brain, which controls much of the body’s motions (although some occur by reflex within the central nervous system in the spine). Runners use a form of predictive coding to stay ahead of their feet.

They also found that runners, by and large, corrected imperfections in a step by their very next step, indicating that the human body has the ability to “fix” its running gait in order to stay upright. And their research showed that imperfections in a running stride that would have caused a runner to fall to the side were corrected more quickly than errors that would have caused a runner to topple forward or backward.

Scientists are interested in watching how the human body runs, because robot makers have found the ability to run very difficult.

Amazing Facts“In terms of movement, humans are just vastly superior to current robots,” Srinivasan said. “Our research is sort of reverse engineering the human body to understand how humans and animals control their bodies to do these amazing tasks. While walking and running maybe don’t sound amazing to people—because it is something most humans do almost every day—there have been a lot of technical challenges to making a robot that can walk or run without falling over, or to building an exoskeleton, for example, that can help a human regain movement while recovering from a stroke.”

We hardly give a thought to the complexity involved in running. It’s one more amazing capability given to us that we should not take for granted. Now, for more awe, think of the moves made by dancers, gymnasts, skiers, and athletes in all kinds of sports: football, basketball, baseball, tennis, everything. Have you given thanks to your Maker today?

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