A whole body characterization of individual strategies, gender differences, and common styles in overarm throwing

Antonella Maselli, Aishwar Dhawan, Marta Russo, Benedetta Cesqui, Francesco Lacquaniti, Andrea d'Avella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Overarm throwing is a fundamental human skill. Since paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies, the ability of throwing played a key role in brain and body co-evolution. For decades, throwing skill acquisition has been the subject of developmental and gender studies. However, due to its complex multijoint nature, whole body throwing has found little space in quantitative studies of motor behavior. In this study we examined how overarm throwing varies within and between individuals in a sample of untrained adults. To quantitatively compare whole body kinematics across throwing actions, we introduced a new combination of spatiotemporal principal component, linear discrimination, and clustering analyses. We found that the identity and gender of a thrower can be robustly inferred by the kinematics of a single throw, reflecting the characteristic features in individual throwing strategies and providing a quantitative ground for the well-known differences between males and females in throwing behavior. We also identified four main classes of throwing strategies, stable within individuals and resembling the main stages of throwing proficiency acquisition during motor development. These results support earlier proposals linking interindividual and gender differences in throwing, with skill acquisition interrupted at different stages of the typical developmental trajectory of throwing motor behavior.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Unconstrained throwing, because of its complexity, received little attention in quantitative motor control studies. By introducing a new approach to analyze whole body kinematics, we quantitatively characterized gender effects, interindividual differences, and common patterns in nontrained throwers. The four throwing styles identified across individuals resemble different stages in the acquisition of throwing skills during development. These results advance our understanding of complex motor skills, bridging the gap between motor control, motor development, and sport science.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2486-2503
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2019


  • dimensionality reduction
  • fundamental motor behavior
  • interindividual variability
  • motor development
  • overarm throwing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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