It is well known that humans run with a fore-foot strike (FFS), a mid-foot strike (MFS) or a rear-foot strike (RFS). A modular neural control mechanism of human walking and running has been discussed in terms of muscle synergies. However, the neural control mechanisms for different foot strike patterns during running have been overlooked even though kinetic and kinematic differences between different foot strike patterns have been reported. Thus, we examined the differences in the neural control mechanisms of human running between FFS and RFS by comparing the muscle synergies extracted from each foot strike pattern during running. Muscle synergies were extracted using non-negative matrix factorization with electromyogram activity recorded bilaterally from 12 limb and trunk muscles in ten male subjects during FFS and RFS running at different speeds (5-15 km/h). Six muscle synergies were extracted from all conditions, and each synergy had a specific function and a single main peak of activity in a cycle. The six muscle synergies were similar between FFS and RFS as well as across subjects and speeds. However, some muscle weightings showed significant differences between FFS and RFS, especially the weightings of the tibialis anterior of the landing leg in synergies activated just before touchdown. The activation patterns of the synergies were also different for each foot strike pattern in terms of the timing, duration, and magnitude of the main peak of activity. These results suggest that the central nervous system controls running by sending a sequence of signals to six muscle synergies. Furthermore, a change in the foot strike pattern is accomplished by modulating the timing, duration and magnitude of the muscle synergy activity and by selectively activating other muscle synergies or subsets of the muscle synergies.
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