The purpose of the present study was to determine whether expertise in rowing is driven by a specific structure in muscular coordination. We compared seven experienced rowers and eight untrained (i.e., inexperienced) subjects during rowing on an ergometer. Both surface electromyography activity and mechanical patterns (forces exerted at the handle and the foot-stretcher) were recorded during a high intensity rowing exercise. A non-negative matrix factorization was applied to 23 electromyographic patterns to differentiate muscle synergies. Results showed that expertise was not associated with different dimensionality in the electromyographic data and that three muscle synergies were sufficient to explain the majority of the variance accounted for (i.e., >90% of the total variance) in the two populations. The synergies extracted were similar in the two populations, with identical functional roles. While the temporal organization of the propulsive synergies was very similar, slight differences were found in the composition of the muscle synergies (muscle synergy vectors) between the two populations. The results suggests that rowing expertise would not require the development of novel muscle synergies but would imply intrinsic synergies already used in different behaviors. Performance in rowing is more probably linked to adjustments in the mechanical output of the muscle synergies rather than to differences in the shape and timing of their activations.
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