Force path curvature and conserved features of muscle activation

John J. Pellegrini, Martha Flanders

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27 Scopus citations


This study examined the patterns of muscle activity that subserve the production of dynamic isometric forces in various directions. The isometric condition provided a test for basic features of neuromuscular control, since the task was analogous to reaching movement, but the behavior was not necessarily shaped by the anisotropy of inertial and viscoelastic resistance to movement. Electromyographic (EMG) activity was simultaneously recorded from nine elbow and/or shoulder muscles, and force pulses, steps, and ramps were monitored using a transducer fixed to the constrained wrists of human subjects. The force responses were produced by activating shoulder and elbow muscles; response direction was controlled by the relative intensity of activity in muscles with different mechanical actions. The primary objective was to characterize the EMG temporal pattern. Ideally, synchronous patterns of phasic muscle activation (and synchronous dynamic elbow and shoulder torques) would result in a straight force path; asynchronous muscle activation could result in substantial force path curvature. For both pulses and steps, asynchronous muscle activation was observed and was accompanied by substantial force path curvature. A second objective was to compare phasic and tonic EMG activity. The spatial tuning of EMG intensity was similar for the phasic and tonic activities of each muscle and also similar to the spatial tuning of tonic activity in a previous study where the arm was stationary but unconstrained.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-90
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1996


  • Directional tuning
  • EMG
  • Human
  • Isometric force
  • Muscle force
  • Path curvature


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