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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Aug;111(2):367-75. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00064.2011. Epub 2011 May 5.

Early neural responses to strength training.

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School of Human Movement Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


The neural adaptations that accompany strength training have yet to be fully determined. Here we sought to address this topic by testing the idea that strength training might share similar mechanisms with some forms of motor learning. Since ballistic motor learning is accompanied by a shift in muscle twitches induced by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) toward the training direction, we sought to investigate if these changes also occur after single isometric strength training sessions with various contraction duration and rate of force development characteristics (i.e., brief or sustained ballistic contractions or slow, sustained contractions). Twitch force resultant vectors and motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) induced by TMS were measured before and after single sessions of strength training involving the forearm muscles. Participants (n = 12) each performed three training protocols (each consisting of 4 sets of 10 repetitions) and served as their own control in a counterbalanced order. All three training protocols caused a significant (P < 0.05) shift in TMS-induced twitch force resultant vectors toward the training direction, followed by a gradual shift back toward the pretraining direction. The strongest effect was found when training involved both ballistic and sustained force components. There were no large or consistent changes in the direction of twitches evoked by motor nerve stimulation for any of the three training protocols. We suggest that these early neural responses to strength training, which share similar corticospinal changes to motor learning, might reflect an important process that precedes more long-term neural adaptation that ultimately enhance strength.

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