The Colla Vella Xiquets de Valls at the Human Towers biannual competition held in Tarragona, Catalonia © Getty Images

How to build the perfect human pyramid

Ever wanted to build a humongous human pyramid? Well now you can perfect your technique thanks to a team of physics students in the UK.

Ever wanted to build a humongous human pyramid? Well now you can perfect your technique thanks to a team of physics students in the UK.

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The students, from the University of Leicester, developed a formula for the forces involved in a human pyramid, coming up with a strategy for the perfect one. The formula identified that people in the middle of the bottom row must support the most weight, so this is usually the pyramid’s weakest spot.

As well as being a fun party game, human pyramids are often seen in gymnastics and cheerleading. They involve participants kneeling together in a row to form a base, supporting a similar layer of participants who kneel or stand on their shoulders, backs or thighs.

The students’ study assumed that each participant had perfect balance as well as average strength. Using the weights of the average Britons – 83.6kg for men, 70.2kg for women and 32.2kg for children – the students calculated that a male-only pyramid could reach four tiers. However, if the participants contained a mixture of men, women and children, the pyramid could reach a maximum of six tiers by placing the lighter participants at the top.

The results were published in the Journal of Physics Special Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University of Leicester’s department of Physics and Astronomy. “The aim of the module is for the students to learn about peer review and scientific publishing,” says physicist Dr Mervyn Roy. “The students are encouraged to be imaginative with their topics, and find ways to apply basic physics to the weird, the wonderful and the everyday.”

The world record for the tallest human pyramid was set by a group of participants at India’s Dahi Handi festival in August 2012. The group created a nine-tier pyramid with a height of 43.79 feet (around 13 metres)… an impressive feat, but probably best not to try this one at home!


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