Learning to Use Muscles

 Article (PDF) 
Gerald E Loeb

The human musculoskeletal system is highly complex mechanically. Its neural control must deal successfully with this complexity to perform the diverse, efficient, robust and usually graceful behaviors of which humans are capable. Most of those behaviors might be performed by many different subsets of its myriad possible states, so how does the nervous system decide which subset to use? One solution that has received much attention over the past 50 years would be for the nervous system to be fundamentally limited in the patterns of muscle activation that it can access, a concept known as muscle synergies or movement primitives. Another solution, based on engineering control methodology, is for the nervous system to compute the single optimal pattern of muscle activation for each task according to a cost function. This review points out why neither appears to be the solution used by humans. There is a third solution that is based on trial-and-error learning, recall and interpolation of sensorimotor programs that are goodenough rather than limited or optimal. The solution set acquired by an individual during the protracted development of motor skills starting in infancy forms the basis of motor habits, which are inherently low-dimensional. Such habits give rise to muscle usage patterns that are consistent with synergies but do not reflect fundamental limitations of the nervous system and can be shaped by training or disability. This habit-based strategy provides a robust substrate for the control of new musculoskeletal structures during evolution as well as for efficient learning, athletic training and rehabilitation therapy.
DOI: 10.2478/hukin-2020-0084
Loeb, G. E. (2021). Learning to Use Muscles. Journal of Human Kinetics, 76, 9-33. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2020-0084
Loeb, G. E. (2021). Learning to Use Muscles. Journal of Human Kinetics, 76, pp.9-33. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2020-0084
Loeb, Gerald. “Learning to Use Muscles.” Journal of Human Kinetics, vol. 76, 2021, pp. 9-33. doi:10.2478/hukin-2020-0084.
Loeb GE. Learning to Use Muscles. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2021;76:9-33. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2020-0084
Key words
redundancy, synergies, primitives, musculoskeletal mechanics, motor habits, control theory, optimal control, servocontrol

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