Purpose: There are neural connections between the upper and lower limbs of humans that enable muscle activation in one limb pair (upper or lower) to modulate muscle activation in the other limb pair (lower or upper, respectively). The aims of this study were to extend previous findings regarding submaximal exercise to maximal effort exercise and determine whether there is an ipsilateral or contralateral bias to the neural coupling during a rhythmic locomotor-like task.
Methods: We measured upper and lower limb muscle activity, joint kinematics, and limb forces in neurologically intact subjects (n = 16) as they performed recumbent stepping using different combinations of upper and lower limb efforts.
Results: We found increased muscle activation in passive lower limbs during active upper limb effort compared with passive upper limb effort. Likewise, increased muscle activation in passive upper limbs occurred during active lower limb effort compared with passive lower limb effort, suggesting a bidirectional effect. Maximal muscle activation in the active lower limbs was not different between conditions with active upper limb effort and conditions with passive upper limb movement. Similarly, maximal muscle activation in the active upper limbs was not different between conditions with active lower limb effort and conditions with passive lower limb movement. Further comparisons revealed that neural coupling was primarily from active upper limb muscles to passive ipsilateral lower limb muscles.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that interlimb neural coupling affects muscle recruitment during maximal effort upper and lower limb rhythmic exercise and provides insight into the architecture of the neural coupling.