How does long-term training affect the neural control of movements? Here we tested the hypothesis that long-term training leading to skilled motor performance alters muscle coordination during challenging, as well as nominal everyday motor behaviors. Using motor module (a.k.a., muscle synergy) analyses, we identified differences in muscle coordination patterns between professionally trained ballet dancers (experts) and untrained novices that accompanied differences in walking balance proficiency assessed using a challenging beam-walking test. During beam walking, we found that experts recruited more motor modules than novices, suggesting an increase in motor repertoire size. Motor modules in experts had less muscle coactivity and were more consistent than in novices, reflecting greater efficiency in muscle output. Moreover, the pool of motor modules shared between beam and overground walking was larger in experts compared with novices, suggesting greater generalization of motor module function across multiple behaviors. These differences in motor output between experts and novices could not be explained by differences in kinematics, suggesting that they likely reflect differences in the neural control of movement following years of training rather than biomechanical constraints imposed by the activity or musculoskeletal structure and function. Our results suggest that to learn challenging new behaviors, we may take advantage of existing motor modules used for related behaviors and sculpt them to meet the demands of a new behavior.
- muscle synergy
- motor control
- motor expertise
- balance control
- Copyright © 2015 the American Physiological Society
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