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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2005 Oct;99(4):1558-68. Epub 2005 May 12.

Motor skill training and strength training are associated with different plastic changes in the central nervous system.

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Department of Medical Physiology, Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.


Changes in corticospinal excitability induced by 4 wk of heavy strength training or visuomotor skill learning were investigated in 24 healthy human subjects. Measurements of the input-output relation for biceps brachii motor evoked potentials (MEPs) elicited by transcranial magnetic stimulation were obtained at rest and during voluntary contraction in the course of the training. The training paradigms induced specific changes in the motor performance capacity of the subjects. The strength training group increased maximal dynamic and isometric muscle strength by 31% (P < 0.001) and 12.5% (P = 0.045), respectively. The skill learning group improved skill performance significantly (P < 0.001). With one training bout, the only significant change in transcranial magnetic stimulation parameters was an increase in skill learning group maximal MEP level (MEP(max)) at rest (P = 0.02) for subjects performing skill training. With repeated skill training three times per week for 4 wk, MEP(max) increased and the minimal stimulation intensity required to elicit MEPs decreased significantly at rest and during contraction (P < 0.05). In contrast, MEP(max) and the slope of the input-output relation both decreased significantly at rest but not during contraction in the strength-trained subjects (P < or = 0.01). No significant changes were observed in a control group. A significant correlation between changes in neurophysiological parameters and motor performance was observed for skill learning but not strength training. The data show that increased corticospinal excitability may develop over several weeks of skill training and indicate that these changes may be of importance for task acquisition. Because strength training was not accompanied by similar changes, the data suggest that different adaptive changes are involved in neural adaptation to strength training.

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