Previous research has described kinetic characteristics of treadmill steps in very stable steppers, in crosssectional designs. In this study we examined, longitudinally, muscle activation patterns during treadmill stepping, without practice, in 12 healthy infants at 1, 6, and 12 mo of age. We assessed lateral gastrocnemius, tibialis anterior, rectus femoris, and biceps femoris as infants stepped on a treadmill during twelve 20-s trials. Infants showed clear changes in kinematics, such as increased step frequency, increased heel contact at touchdown, and more flat-footed contact at midstance. Electromyographic data showed high variability in muscle states (combinations), with high prevalence of all muscles active initially, reducing with age. Agonist-antagonist muscle coactivation also decreased as age increased. Probability analyses showed that across step cycles, the likelihood a muscle was on at any point tended to be <50%; lateral gastrocnemius was the exception, showing an adultlike pattern of probability across ages. In summary, over time, healthy infants produce a wide variety of muscle activation combinations and timings when generating stepping patterns on a treadmill, even if some levels of muscle control arose with time. However, the kinematic stability improved much more clearly than the underlying kinetic strategies. We conclude that although innate control of limb movement improves as infants grow, explore, and acquire functional movement, stepping on a treadmill is a novel and unpracticed one. Hence, developing stable underlying neural activations will only arise as functional practice ensues, similarly to that observed for other functional movements in infancy.
- Interlimb coordination