The activity of motor cortical cells and proximal arm muscles during the initiation of planar reaching movements were analyzed to identify whether features of coordinated motor patterns of muscles spanning the elbow and shoulder were evident in the discharge patterns of motor cortical cells. Shoulder and elbow muscles were divided into four groups, flexors and extensors at each joint. Features of the initial agonist activity, onset time and magnitude, at the shoulder and elbow were compared for movements in different spatial directions. As observed for human movements, differences in the onset time and the relative magnitude of electromyographic activity (EMG) of muscles acting about the shoulder and elbow were dependent on the direction of movement. Motor cortical cells were categorized as elbow or shoulder related on the basis of their response to passive movement of the joints. Differences in the onset time and the relative magnitude of activity of cells related to the shoulder and elbow were both dependent on the direction of movement and were similar to those observed for muscles spanning these joints. There was a modest, but significant correlation between the onset time and magnitude of EMG for individual muscles. A similar magnitude-time coupling was observed for individual motor cortical cells. Variations in the discharge pattern of motor cortical cells before movement that mirror those observed for muscles spanning the shoulder and elbow support the potential role of primary motor cortex in the selection, timing, and magnitude of agonist motor patterns at the shoulder and elbow to initiate reaching movements.