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PLoS One. 2015 Nov 3;10(11):e0142048. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0142048. eCollection 2015.

Task-Dependent Intermuscular Motor Unit Synchronization between Medial and Lateral Vastii Muscles during Dynamic and Isometric Squats.

Author information

Human Performance Laboratory, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Biomechanigg Sport & Health Research Inc., Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Digital Sports Group, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuernberg, Erlangen, Germany.



Motor unit activity is coordinated between many synergistic muscle pairs but the functional role of this coordination for the motor output is unclear. The purpose of this study was to investigate the short-term modality of coordinated motor unit activity-the synchronized discharge of individual motor units across muscles within time intervals of 5ms-for the Vastus Medialis (VM) and Lateralis (VL). Furthermore, we studied the task-dependency of intermuscular motor unit synchronization between VM and VL during static and dynamic squatting tasks to provide insight into its functional role.


Sixteen healthy male and female participants completed four tasks: Bipedal squats, single-leg squats, an isometric squat, and single-leg balance. Monopolar surface electromyography (EMG) was used to record motor unit activity of VM and VL. For each task, intermuscular motor unit synchronization was determined using a coherence analysis between the raw EMG signals of VM and VL and compared to a reference coherence calculated from two desynchronized EMG signals. The time shift between VM and VL EMG signals was estimated according to the slope of the coherence phase angle spectrum.


For all tasks, except for singe-leg balance, coherence between 15-80Hz significantly exceeded the reference. The corresponding time shift between VM and VL was estimated as 4ms. Coherence between 30-60Hz was highest for the bipedal squat, followed by the single-leg squat and the isometric squat.


There is substantial short-term motor unit synchronization between VM and VL. Intermuscular motor unit synchronization is enhanced for contractions during dynamic activities, possibly to facilitate a more accurate control of the joint torque, and reduced during single-leg tasks that require balance control and thus, a more independent muscle function. It is proposed that the central nervous system scales the degree of intermuscular motor unit synchronization according to the requirements of the movement task at hand.

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