How does long-term training modify the neural control of walking? Here we investigate changes in kinematics and muscle synergies of the lower extremities in 10 soccer players and 10 non-athletes while they walked with eyes open or closed either overground or on a treadmill. Electromyography (EMG) was acquired from eight muscles of the right leg and foot switch data were recorded to extract temporal gait parameters. Muscle synergies were extracted using non-negative matrix factorisation for each participant and condition separately and were then grouped using k-means clustering. We found that both the cycle and stance duration were longer during treadmill walking compared to overground walking, whereas the swing phase was longer during the eyes-open compare to the eyes-closed condition. On average, more synergies were expressed in the athlete compared to the non-athlete group and during treadmill compared to overground walking. We found that synergy 2 involved in ankle plantarflexion was more often activated in athletes than in non-athletes. We did not find statistical group differences for the synergy metrics but several differences were observed between conditions: peak activation of synergy 5 (VM and VL muscles) increased during overground walking compared to treadmill walking. In addition, reduced activation of synergy 3 (TA muscle) and synergy 4 was observed during eyes-closed compared to eyes-open walking. These findings suggest that during walking long-term training results in greater flexibility of muscle coordination by recruiting additional synergies, but we found no evidence that long-term training affects the activation patterns of these synergies.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience