Variability of cycle-to-cycle duration during a pedaling task is probably related to the rhythmic control of the lower limb muscles as in gait. Although walking variability has been extensively studied for its clinical and physiological implications, pedaling variability has received little attention. The present contribution determines the variability of the cycling time during a 10-min exercise as a function of upper body position. Nine healthy males were required to pedal on cycle-ergometer at a self-selected speed for 10 min in two different upper body positions [hands on upper handlebars (UP) or lower handlebars (DP)]. Time domain measures of cycling variability [total standard deviation (SDtot), mean standard deviation cycle-to-cycle intervals over 100 cycles (SD100), standard deviation of the average cycle-to-cycle intervals over 100 cycles (SDA100)] were measured. Moreover, the same time domain measures were also calculated for heart rate in order to discriminate possible involvements of autonomic regulation. Finally, the structure of the cycle variations has been analyzed in the framework of deterministic chaos calculating the maximum Lyapunov exponents. Significant increases in cycle-to-cycle variability were found for SDtot, SD100 in DP compared to UP, whereas cardiac parameters and other cycling parameters were not changed in the two positions. Moreover, the maximum Lyapunov exponent was significantly more negative in DP. The results suggest that small perturbations of upper body position can influence the control of cycling rhythmicity by increasing the variability in a dissipative deterministic regimen.
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