Do individual differences in the distribution of activation between synergist muscles reflect individual strategies?

  • Marion Crouzier
  • François Hug
  • Sylvain Dorel
  • Thibault Deschamps
  • Kylie Tucker
  • Lilian Lacourpaille
Research Article


Individual differences in the distribution of activation between synergist muscles have been reported during a wide variety of tasks. Whether these differences represent actual individual strategies is unknown. The aims of this study were to: (i) test the between-day reliability of the distribution of activation between synergist muscles, (ii) to determine the robustness of these strategies between tasks, and to (iii) describe the inter-individual variability of activation strategies in a large sample size. Eighty-five volunteers performed a series of single-joint isometric tasks with their dominant leg [knee extension and plantarflexion at 25% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC)] and locomotor tasks (pedalling and walking). Of these participants, 62 performed a second experimental session that included the isometric tasks. Myoelectrical activity of six lower limb muscles (the three superficial heads of the quadriceps and the three heads of the triceps surae) was measured using surface electromyography (EMG) and normalized to that measured during MVC. When considering isometric contractions, distribution of normalized EMG amplitude among synergist muscles, considered here as activation strategies, was highly variable between individuals (15.8% < CV < 42.7%) and robust across days (0.57 < ICC < 0.82). In addition, individual strategies observed during simple single-joint tasks were correlated with those observed during locomotor tasks [0.37 < r < 0.76 for quadriceps (n = 83); 0.30 < r < 0.66 for triceps surae (n = 82); all P < 0.001]. Our results provide evidence that people who bias their activation to a particular muscle do so during multiple tasks. Even though inter-individual variability of EMG signals has been well described, it is often considered noise which complicates the interpretation of data. This study provides evidence that variability results from actual differences in activation strategies.


Electromyography Muscle coordination Pedalling Gait 



The authors thank Killian Bouillard and Lois Boucherf (University of Nantes, France) for collecting some data of this study.


This study was supported by a grant from the Région Pays de la Loire (QUETE project, no. 2015-09035). François Hug was supported by a fellowship from the Institut Universitaire de France (IUF).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no financial conflicts of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Sport Sciences, Laboratory “Movement, Interactions, Performance” (EA 4334)University of NantesNantesFrance
  2. 2.School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, NHMRC Centre of Clinical Research Excellence in Spinal Pain, Injury and HealthThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.School of Biomedical SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Institut Universitaire de France (IUF)ParisFrance

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