Adaptational and learning processes during human split-belt locomotion: interaction between central mechanisms and afferent input

Exp Brain Res. 1995;106(3):449-56. doi: 10.1007/BF00231067.


Split-belt locomotion (i.e., walking with unequal leg speeds) requires a rapid adaptation of biomechanical parameters and therefore of leg muscle electromyographic (EMG) activity. This adaptational process during the first strides of asymmetric gait as well as learning effects induced by repetition were studied in 11 healthy volunteers. Subjects were switched from slow (0.5 m/s) symmetric gait to split-belt locomotion with speeds of 0.5 m/s and 1.5 m/s, respectively. All subjects were observed to adapt in a similar way: (1) during the first trial, adaptation required about 12-15 strides. This was achieved by an increase in stride cycle duration, i.e., an increase in swing duration on the fast side and an increase in support duration on the slow side. (2) Adaptation of leg extensor and flexor EMG activity paralleled the changes of biomechanical parameters. During the first strides, muscle activity was enhanced with no increase in coactivity of antagonistic leg muscles. (3) A motor learning effect was seen when the same paradigm was repeated a few minutes later--interrupted by symmetric locomotion--as adaptation to the split-belt speeds was achieved within 1-3 strides. (4) This short-time learning effect did not occur in the "mirror" condition when the slow and fast sides were inverted. In this case adaptation again required 12-15 strides. A close link between central and proprioceptive mechanisms of interlimb coordination is suggested to underlie the adaptational processes during split-belt conditions. It can be assumed that, as in quadrupedal locomotion of the cat, human bipedal locomotion involves separate locomotor generators to provide the flexibility demanded. The present results suggest that side-specific proprioceptive information regarding the dynamics of the movement is necessary to adjust the centrally generated locomotor activity for both legs to the actual needs for controlled locomotion. Although the required pattern is quickly learned, this learning effect cannot be transferred to the contralateral side.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adult
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Leg / physiology*
  • Male
  • Walking*