Neuromechanics of muscle synergies during cycling

J Neurophysiol. 2009 Feb;101(2):843-54. doi: 10.1152/jn.90679.2008. Epub 2008 Dec 10.


Muscle synergies have been proposed as building blocks that could simplify the construction of motor behaviors. However, the muscles within synergistic groups may have different architectures, mechanical linkages to the skeleton, and biochemical properties, and these put competing demands on the most appropriate way to activate them for different mechanical tasks. This study identifies the extent to which synergistic patterns of muscle activity vary when the mechanical demands on a limb were altered, and additionally identifies how consistent the spectral profiles of the electromyographic (EMG) intensities were across the different movement tasks. The muscle activities were measured with surface EMG across 10 muscles in the leg during cycling at a range of loads and velocities. The EMGs were quantified by their intensities in time-frequency space using wavelet analysis; the instantaneous patterns of activity identified using principal component analysis, statistically compared and further visualized using the varimax rotation. Variability (35.7%) in the patterns of activity between the muscles were correlated with the torque and velocity of the pedal crank. Anatomic groups of muscles share a common mechanical action across a joint; uncoupling between such muscles was identified in 68.8% of the varimax patterns that encompassed all 10 muscles and 20.8-29.5% of the activity patterns when the anatomic groups were analyzed separately. The EMG spectra showed greatest heterogeneity for the gastrocnemii. These results show that the activity of muscles within anatomic groups is partially uncoupled in response to altered mechanical demands on the limb.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiology*
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Physiological Phenomena*