Changes in the referent body location and configuration may underlie human gait, as confirmed by findings of multi-muscle activity minimizations and phase resetting

Anatol G. Feldman, Tal Krasovsky, Melanie C. Baniña, Anouk Lamontagne, Mindy F. Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Locomotion is presumably guided by feed-forward shifts in the referent body location in the desired direction in the environment. We propose that the difference between the actual and the referent body locations is transmitted to neurons that virtually diminish this difference by appropriately changing the referent body configuration, i.e. the body posture at which muscles reach their recruitment thresholds. Muscles are activated depending on the gap between the actual and the referent body configurations resulting in a step being made to minimize this gap. This hypothesis implies that the actual and the referent leg configurations can match each other at certain phases of the gait cycle, resulting in minimization of leg muscle activity. We found several leg configurations at which EMG minima occurred, both during forward and backward gait. It was also found that the set of limb configurations associated with EMG minima can be changed by modifying the pattern of forward and backward gait. Our hypothesis predicts that, in response to perturbations of gait, the rate of shifts in the referent body location can temporarily be changed to avoid falling. The rate influences the phase of rhythmic limb movements during gait. Therefore, following the change in the rate of the referent body location, the whole gait pattern, for all four limbs, will irreversibly be shifted in time (long-lasting and global phase resetting) with only transient changes in the gait speed, swing and stance timing and cycle duration. Aside from transient changes in the duration of the swing and/or stance phase in response to perturbation, few previous studies have documented long-lasting and global phase resetting of human gait in response to perturbation. Such resetting was a robust finding in our study. By confirming the notion that feed-forward changes in the referent body location and configuration underlie human locomotion, this study solves the classical problem in the relationship between stability of posture and gait and advances the understanding of how human locomotion involves the whole body and is accomplished in a spatial frame of reference associated with the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-115
Number of pages25
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments Supported by the CIHR (Locomotor Team Grant. PI: Serge Rossignol), CHRP, NSERC and FQRNT (Canada). TK’s doctoral studies are supported by a fellowship from the CIHR Locomotor Team Grant and from Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (focus on stroke). MFL holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Motor Recovery and Rehabilitation. We thank Rafael Laboissiere for productive discussions of this study.


  • Equilibrium-point-hypothesis
  • Feed-forward control
  • Locomotion
  • Multi-muscle coordination
  • Posture and gait
  • Redundancy problems
  • Spatial frames of reference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Changes in the referent body location and configuration may underlie human gait, as confirmed by findings of multi-muscle activity minimizations and phase resetting'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this