Electromyographic studies of mammalian locomotion have concentrated on cursorial species. Since these may not be typical of mammals in general, the present study has been made on the relatively non-cursorial rat.
Electromyography has been performed on 20 muscles or muscle groups of the hind-limb in decerebrate rats, moving at from one to eight steps per second. All muscles were active in discrete bursts, with fixed phase relations in the step cycle. They can be categorized as flexors–active just before and during swing, extensors/adductors–active just before and during stance, muscles controlling the foot, and some double joint muscles. The latter, represented by semitendinosus and rectus femoris, tend to be active twice in each step cycle. There is a distinct reciprocity in the activities of these two muscles. The duration of the extensor/adductor activity decreases with increase of stepping speed.
The pattern of muscle activity during the step cycle is very similar in both cursorial species and the rat. This suggests that central nervous mechanisms controlling the timing of single limb motor output in mammals may be very conservative.