Effect of single-limb inertial loading on bilateral reaching: interlimb interactions

Exp Brain Res. 2001 Sep;140(1):34-45. doi: 10.1007/s002210100779.


This study employed the paradigm of asymmetric limb loading during bilateral arm reaching to examine the motor system's ability to independently organize the discrete movement of both upper limbs to equidistant targets when one of the limbs is loaded under specific timing constraints. The loading procedure involved attaching two different Velcro strapped weights to the right wrist, thus increasing the right arm's mass by 25% (1 kg) and 50% (2 kg). Movements were captured by a high-speed digital camera (240 Hz), while electromyographic (EMG) activity of selected elbow and shoulder muscles of both limbs was recorded (1,000 Hz) simultaneously. The results revealed that the mechanisms used by the system to compensate for unilateral limb loading were as follows: First, addition of an inertial load resulted in an increased movement time and concomitant decrease in peak velocity of both the upper arm and forearm of only the loaded limb and was scaled to the added weight. Second, for the EMG parameters, adjustments to the inertial load were primarily characterized by an increase in burst duration of all muscles, with load-specific changes in activity and onset time: the elbow antagonist (biceps) demonstrated a decrease in activity with the 50% load, and the elbow agonist (triceps) had an earlier onset with the 25% load. Concomitant adjustments on the unloaded limb consisted primarily of an increase in burst duration of the shoulder and elbow agonists (pectoralis and triceps), an earlier triceps onset solely with the 25% load, and a decrease in activity of the biceps solely with the 50% load. Third, with the exception of biceps activity, the amplitude of EMG activity was invariant across changes in load for both the loaded and unloaded limb. This lack of modulation in activity may have been related to the inability of performers to meet the time constraint of simultaneous bilateral limb arrival to the end targets. This inability can be the result of an active strategy selection process to safeguard the actions against interference or alternatively it could simply be a consequence of the biomechanical properties of the system in relation to task constraints. These issues are discussed in the light of the present findings and those of previous studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arm / innervation
  • Arm / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Shoulder / innervation
  • Shoulder / physiology
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology*