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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2001 Sep;91(3):1341-9.

Normalized force, activation, and coactivation in the arm muscles of young and old men.

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Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging, Lawson Health Research Institute, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada N6G 2M3.


The purpose of this study was to determine whether the loss of muscle strength in the elderly could be explained entirely by a decline in the physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA) of muscle. Isometric force, muscle activation (twitch interpolation), and coactivation (surface electromyograph) were measured during maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs) of the elbow flexors (EFs) and extensors (EEs) in 20 young (23 +/- 3 yr) and 13 older (81 +/- 6 yr) healthy men. PCSA was determined using magnetic resonance imaging, and normalized force (NF) was calculated as the MVC/PCSA ratio. The PCSA was smaller in the old compared with the young men, more so in the EEs (28%) compared with the EFs (19%) (P < 0.001); however, the decline in MVC (approximately 30%) with age was similar in the two muscle groups. Muscle activation was not different between the groups, but coactivation was greater (5%) (P < 0.001) in the old men for both muscles. NF was less (11%) in the EFs (P < 0.01) and tended to be unchanged in the EEs of the old compared with young subjects. The relative maintenance of NF in the EEs compared with the EFs may be related to age-associated changes in the architecture of the triceps brachii muscle. In conclusion, although the decline in PCSA explained the majority of strength loss in the old men, additional factors such as greater coactivation or reduced specific tension also may have contributed to the age-related loss of isometric strength.

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