Spatiotemporal characteristics of muscle patterns for ball catching

M. D'Andola, B. Cesqui, A. Portone, L. Fernandez, F. Lacquaniti, A. d'Avella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What sources of information and what control strategies the CNS uses to perform movements that require accurate sensorimotor coordination, such as catching a flying ball, is still debated. Here we analyzed the EMG waveforms recorded from 16 shoulder and elbow muscles in six subjects during catching of balls projected frontally from a distance of 6 m and arriving at two different heights and with three different flight times (550, 650, 750 ms). We found that a large fraction of the variation in the muscle patterns was captured by two time-varying muscle synergies, coordinated recruitment of groups of muscles with specific activation waveforms, modulated in amplitude and shifted in time according to the ball's arrival height and flight duration. One synergy was recruited with a short and fixed delay from launch time. Remarkably, a second synergy was recruited at a fixed time before impact, suggesting that it is timed according to an accurate time-to-contact estimation. These results suggest that the control of interceptive movements relies on a combination of reactive and predictive processes through the intermittent recruitment of time-varying muscle synergies. Knowledge of the dynamic effect of gravity and drag on the ball may be then implicitly incorporated in a direct mapping of visual information into a small number of synergy recruitment parameters.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Computational Neuroscience
Issue numberJUL
Publication statusPublished - Jul 21 2013


  • EMG activity
  • Interception
  • Intermittency
  • Muscle synergies
  • Time-to-contact

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Spatiotemporal characteristics of muscle patterns for ball catching'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this