Human walking is remarkably adaptable on short and long timescales. We can immediately transition between directions and gait patterns, and we can adaptively learn accurate calibrations for different walking contexts. Here we studied the degree to which different motor patterns can adapt independently. We used a split-belt treadmill to adapt the right and left legs to different speeds and in different directions (forward versus backward). To our surprise, adults could easily walk with their legs moving in opposite directions. Analysis of aftereffects showed that walking adaptations are stored independently for each leg and do not transfer across directions. Thus, there are separate functional networks controlling forward and backward walking in humans, and the circuits controlling the right and left legs can be trained individually. Such training could provide a new therapeutic approach for correcting various walking asymmetries.
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