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Eur J Appl Physiol. 2004 Jun;92(1-2):219-26. Epub 2004 Mar 31.

Reduced plantarflexor specific torque in the elderly is associated with a lower activation capacity.

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Centre for Biophysical and Clinical Research into Human Movement (CRM), Manchester Metropolitan University, Hassall Road, Alsager, Cheshire, ST7 2HL, UK.


Previous studies have reported a decrease in muscle torque per cross-sectional area in old age. This investigation aimed at determining the influence of agonists muscle activation and antagonists co-activation on the specific torque of the plantarflexors (PF) in recreationally active elderly males (EM) and, for comparison, in young men (YM). Twenty-one EM, aged 70-82 years, and 14 YM, aged 19-35 years, performed isometric maximum voluntary contractions (MVC). Activation was assessed by comparing the amplitude of interpolated supramaximal twitch doublets at MVC, with post-tetanic doublet peak torque. Co-activation of the tibialis anterior (TA) was evaluated as the ratio of TA-integrated EMG (IEMG) activity during PF MVC compared to TA IEMG during maximal voluntary dorsiflexion. Triceps surae muscle volume (VOL) was assessed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and PF peak torque was normalised to VOL (PT/VOL) since the later approximates physiological cross-sectional area (CSA) more closely than anatomical CSA. Also, physical activity level, assessed by accelerometry, was significantly lower (21%) in the elderly males. In comparison to the YM group, a greater difference in PT (39%) than VOL (19%) was found in the EM group. PT/VOL and activation capacity were respectively lower by 25% and 21% in EM compared to YM, whereas co-activation was not significantly different. In EM PT/VOL correlated with activation (R(2)=0.31, P<0.01). In conclusion, a reduction in activation capacity may contribute significantly to the decline in specific torque in the plantar flexors of elderly males. The hypothesis is put forward that reduced physical activity is partialy responsible for the reduced activation capacity in the elderly.

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