Shared muscle synergies in human walking and cycling

Filipe O. Barroso*, Diego Torricelli, Juan C. Moreno, Julian Taylor, Julio Gomez-Soriano, Elisabeth Bravo-Esteban, Stefano Piazza, Cristina Santos, Jose L Pons

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The motor system may rely on a modular organization (muscle synergies activated in time) to execute different tasks. We investigated the common control features of walking and cycling in healthy humans from the perspective of muscle synergies. Three hypotheses were tested: 1) muscle synergies extracted from walking trials are similar to those extracted during cycling; 2) muscle synergies extracted from one of these motor tasks can be used to mathematically reconstruct the electromyographic (EMG) patterns of the other task; 3) muscle synergies of cycling can result from merging synergies of walking. A secondary objective was to identify the speed (and cadence) at which higher similarities emerged. EMG activity from eight muscles of the dominant leg was recorded in eight healthy subjects during walking and cycling at four matched cadences. A factorization technique [nonnegative matrix factorization (NNMF)] was applied to extract individual muscle synergy vectors and the respective activation coefficients behind the global muscular activity of each condition. Results corroborated hypotheses 2 and 3, showing that 1) four synergies from walking and cycling can successfully explain most of the EMG variability of cycling and walking, respectively, and 2) two of four synergies from walking appear to merge together to reconstruct one individual synergy of cycling, with best reconstruction values found for higher speeds. Direct comparison of the muscle synergy vectors of walking and the muscle synergy vectors of cycling (hypothesis 1) produced moderated values of similarity. This study provides supporting evidence for the hypothesis that cycling and walking share common neuromuscular mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1984-1998
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 15 2014


  • Cycling
  • Electromyography
  • Motor control
  • Muscle synergies
  • Walking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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