How does step training affect stepping performance in untrained directions?

Step training is effective for preventing falls in older people (Okubo et al., 2015). This is likely because the movements performed during training closely mimic those which are necessary to avoid falling in real-world situations.

One form of step training involves interactive video game technology. This type of training has the potential for widespread implementation because the training systems are low-cost, and they can be used by older people at home and without supervision. However, most interactive step training systems involve step movements in only a few directions (e.g., forward and back, or side-to-side), and it is unclear if this type of training impacts step performance in other (untrained) directions. With other forms of exercise, training in a limited number of directions can sometimes impair the ability to perform rapid movements in directions that are not used in training (Barry et al., 2004)—a phenomenon termed “negative transfer.”

In our study, we examined if one session of step training in a limited number of directions negatively impacted step performance in an untrained direction. Fifty four older adults performed 15 minutes of step training in either the forward direction only or in both the forward and lateral directions. Before and after the training session, we tested parameters of step performance over a sequence of 30 step trials. These test trials were performed in several directions, including the untrained, diagonal direction.



Fifteen minutes of step training in the forward direction caused a delay in step response time (a negative transfer effect) and a faster stepping speed (a positive effect) in the untrained, diagonal direction. However, these effects were only present in the first step trial after training. The effects were no longer apparent in subsequent step trials. Step training that involved both forward and lateral movements showed no such effects after training.



Our results suggest that most home-based step training systems (usually with 6 directions) do not deteriorate stepping ability in untrained directions. Step training in only the forward direction may acutely slow cognitive responses which are needed to execute steps in the untrained, diagonal direction. However, this negative effect disappears in subsequent steps, and it does not affect physical stepping performance. In fact, stepping speed in the untrained direction becomes faster.



Okubo Y, Menant J, Udyavar M, Brodie MA, Barry BK, Lord SR, Sturnieks DL. Transfer effects of step training on stepping performance in untrained directions in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Gait Posture 54: 50–55, 2017.

If you cannot access the paper, please click here to request a copy.



Barry BK, Carson RG. Transfer of resistance training to enhance rapid coordinated force production by older adults. Exp Brain Res 159: 225-38, 2004.

Okubo Y, Schoene D, Lord SR. Step training improves reaction time, gait and balance and reduces falls in older people: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 51: 586-593, 2017.




Yoshiro Okubo is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Neuroscience Research Australia. He obtained a PhD in Sports Medicine at the University of Tsukuba (Japan) in 2015. He now studies volitional and reactive stepping performance required for prevention of falls in older adults.

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