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Exp Brain Res. 2014 Jul;232(7):2293-304. doi: 10.1007/s00221-014-3922-0. Epub 2014 Apr 2.

The effects of massed versus distributed contractions on the variability of maximal isometric force.

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  • 1Electromyographic Kinesiology Laboratory, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Brock University, 500 Glenridge Avenue, St. Catharines, ON, L2S 3A1, Canada.


This study evaluated the effect of a massed versus distributed repetition schedule on the variability of force and surface electromyographic (sEMG) activity during maximal voluntary isometric elbow flexion contractions. The massed group (N = 13) performed 15 contractions on 1 day, while the distributed group (N = 13) performed 15 contractions across three consecutive days (five per day). Two retention tests (five contractions each) occurred 2 weeks and 3 months after the final trial of the initial test sessions. Force and sEMG of the biceps and triceps brachii muscles were recorded concurrently. Both groups had comparable increases in force and biceps brachii sEMG that continued over short- and longer-term retention tests (p < 0.05). Triceps brachii sEMG exhibited a more complicated pattern of successive decreases and increases (p < 0.05). The massed repetition schedule resulted in significantly (p < 0.05) less variability in maintaining a constant force [root mean square (RMS) error]. There was a significant decrease in the variability of the force-time and sEMG-time curves as assessed by the variance ratio (VR) (p < 0.05). Only biceps sEMG and VR correlated highly with force VR for the distributed group. Total (biceps + triceps) sEMG magnitude and variability correlated highly with both RMS error and force VR for the massed group. It was concluded that the massed contraction pattern allowed participants to learn how to regulate joint stiffness in addition to the variability of muscle activity. This allowed for greater decreases in RMS error than could be obtained by regulating the variability of muscle activity alone.

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