Motor coordination can be fully understood only by studying complex movements

Paul J. Cordo, Victor S. Gurfinkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


In this chapter, we use the sit-up to illustrate the complexity of coordination in movements that involve many muscles, joints, degrees of freedom, and high levels of muscle activity. Complex movements often involve the body axis. In addition to the intentional, focal part of any voluntary movement, complex movements also include "associated movements" that are not consciously controlled, but are necessary for the movement to succeed. Some associated movements serve a purpose, and others may not. During sitting up, the leg-lift is a purposive associated movement, whereas three-joint flexion is a non-purposive associated movement. The control of complex movements is also likely to be complex and, we argue, is hierarchically controlled. Associated movements may, themselves, be hierarchically organized and triggered by lower brain structures, local changes in neuronal excitability, and sensory feedback. Complex movements typically involve a high level of mobility. Because this mobility can lead to instability, anticipatory postural adjustments, a type of purposive associated movement, are commonly used to regulate posture. Thus, a number of important aspects of motor coordination can only be revealed by the study of complex movements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-38
Number of pages10
JournalProgress in Brain Research
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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