Basic features of phasic activation for reaching in vertical planes

Martha Flanders, John J. Pellegrini, Scott D. Geisler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to fully characterize the timing and intensity of the phasic portion of the electromyographic (EMG) waveform for reaching movements in vertical planes. Electromyographic activity was simultaneously recorded from nine superficial elbow and/or shoulder muscles while human subjects made rapid arm movements. Hand paths comprised 20 directions in a sagittal plane and 20 directions in a frontal plane. In order to focus on the more phasic aspects of muscle activation, estimates of postural EMG activity were subtracted from the EMG traces recorded during rapid reaches. These postural estimates were obtained from activity recorded during very slow reaches to the same targets. After subtraction of this postural activity, agonist or antagonist burst patterns were often observed in the phasic EMG traces. For nearly all muscles and all subjects, the relation between phasic EMG intensity and movement direction was a function with multiple peaks. For all muscles, the timing of phasic EMG bursts varied as a function of movement direction: the data from each muscle exhibited a gradual temporal shift of activity over a certain range of directions. This gradual temporal shift has no obvious correspondence to the mechanical requirements of the task and might represent a neuromuscular control strategy in which burst timing contributes to the specification of movement direction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-79
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1996


  • Arm movement
  • Electromyography
  • Human
  • Joint torque
  • Neuromuscular pattern generation
  • Reaching


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