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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2010 Nov;109(5):1455-66. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01213.2009. Epub 2010 Sep 9.

Motor unit behavior during submaximal contractions following six weeks of either endurance or strength training.

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  • 1Center for Sensory-Motor Interaction, Department of Health Science and Technology, Aalborg University, Aalborg East, Denmark.


The study investigated changes in motor output and motor unit behavior following 6 wk of either strength or endurance training programs commonly used in conditioning and rehabilitation. Twenty-seven sedentary healthy men (age, 26.1 ± 3.9 yr; mean ± SD) were randomly assigned to strength training (ST; n = 9), endurance training (ET; n = 10), or a control group (CT; n = 8). Maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), time to task failure (isometric contraction at 30% MVC), and rate of force development (RFD) of the quadriceps were measured before (week 0), during (week 3), and after a training program of 6 wk. In each experimental session, surface and intramuscular EMG signals were recorded from the vastus medialis obliquus and vastus lateralis muscles during isometric knee extension at 10 and 30% MVC. After 6 wk of training, MVC and RFD increased in the ST group (17.5 ± 7.5 and 33.3 ± 15.9%, respectively; P < 0.05), whereas time to task failure was prolonged in the ET group (29.7 ± 13.4%; P < 0.05). The surface EMG amplitude at 30% MVC force increased with training in both groups, but the training-induced changes in motor unit discharge rates differed between groups. After endurance training, the motor unit discharge rate at 30% MVC decreased from 11.3 ± 1.3 to 10.1 ± 1.1 pulses per second (pps; P < 0.05) in the vasti muscles, whereas after strength training it increased from 11.4 ± 1.2 to 12.7 ± 1.3 pps (P < 0.05). Finally, motor unit conduction velocity during the contractions at 30% MVC increased for both the ST and ET groups, but only after 6 wk of training (P < 0.05). In conclusion, these strength and endurance training programs elicit opposite adjustments in motor unit discharge rates but similar changes in muscle fiber conduction velocity.

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