We examined the control of postural stability in preparation to a discrete, quick whole-body sway toward a target and back to the initial position. Several predictions were tested based on the theory of control with referent body orientation and the notion of multi-muscle synergies stabilizing center of pressure (COP) coordinate. Healthy, young adults performed fast, discrete whole-body motion forward-and-back and backward-and-back under visual feedback on the COP. We used two methods to assess COP stability, analysis of inter-trial variance and analysis of motor equivalence in the muscle activation space. Actions were always preceded by COP counter-movements. Backward COP shifts were faster, and the indices of multi-muscle synergies stabilizing COP were higher prior to those actions. Patterns of muscle activation at the motion onset supported the idea of a gradual shift in the referent body orientation. Prior to the backward movements, there was a trend toward higher muscle co-activation, compared to reciprocal activation. We found strong correlations between the sets of indices of motor equivalence and those of inter-trial variance. Overall, the results support the theory of control with referent coordinates and the idea of multi-muscle synergies stabilizing posture by confirming a number of non-trivial predictions based on these concepts. The findings favor using indices of motor equivalence in clinical studies to minimize the number of trials performed by each subject.
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