We used the framework of the uncontrolled manifold (UCM) hypothesis to analyze multi-muscle synergies involved in making a step by a standing person. We hypothesized that leg and trunk muscles are organized into stable groups (muscle modes, M-modes) related to shifts of the center of pressure (COP) in the anterior-posterior and medio-lateral directions. Another hypothesis was that the magnitudes of the modes covary across repetitive trials to stabilize a certain magnitude of the COP shift in both directions. M-modes were defined using principal component analysis applied to indices of changes in the electromyographic (EMG) activity prior to releasing variable loads that were held by the subject using a pulley system. For the task of releasing the load behind the body three M-modes associated with a backward COP shift were defined. Four M-modes were defined for the task of releasing the load at the body side associated with a lateral COP shift. Multiple regression analysis was used to relate changes in the M-mode magnitudes to COP shifts. EMG changes prior to making a step were quantified over five 100 ms time windows before the lift-off of the stepping leg. Two components of the variance in the M-mode space computed across repetitions of a stepping task were quantified - a component that did not affect the average COP shift in a particular direction (variance within the UCM, VUCM), and a component that affected the COP shift (variance orthogonal to the UCM, VORT). VUCM was significantly higher than VORT for both directions of the COP shifts. This relation was observed for the M-modes in the stepping leg as well as in the support leg. The stepping leg showed a different time evolution of the ratio V UCM/VORT such that the difference between the two variance components disappeared closer to the time of the lift-off. The findings corroborate both main hypotheses. The study supports a view that control of whole-body actions involves grouping the muscles, using fewer elemental variables to scale the muscle activity, and forming synergies in the space of the elemental variables that stabilize time profiles of important performance variables.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes