There is no theoretical or empirical evidence to suggest how the central nervous system (CNS) controls a variety of muscles associated with gait transition between walking and running. Here, we examined the motor control during a gait transition based on muscle synergies, which modularly organize functionally similar muscles. To this end, the subjects walked or ran on a treadmill and performed a gait transition spontaneously as the treadmill speed increased or decreased (a changing speed condition) or voluntarily following an experimenter's instruction at constant treadmill speed (a constant speed condition). Surface electromyograms (EMGs) were recorded from 11 lower limb muscles bilaterally. We then extracted the muscle weightings of synergies and their activation coefficients from the EMG data using non-negative matrix factorization. As a result, the gait transition was controlled by approximately 9 muscle synergies, which were common during a walking and running, and their activation profiles were changed before and after a gait transition. Near a gait transition, the peak activation phases of the synergies, which were composed of plantar flexor muscles, were shifted to an earlier phase at the walk-to-run transition, and vice versa. The shifts were gradual in the changing speed condition, but an abrupt change was observed in the constant speed condition. These results suggest that the CNS low-dimensionally regulate the activation profiles of the specific synergies based on afferent information (spontaneous gait transition) or by changing only the descending neural input to the muscle synergies (voluntary gait transition) to achieve a gait transition.
Keywords: electromyogram; motor control; muscle activity; non-negative matrix factorization; running; walking.