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Motor unit recruitment strategy changes with skill acquisition.

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Louisiana State University Medical Center, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, New Orleans 70112, USA.


The modifications of motor unit recruitment strategy due to skill acquisition was determined in the elbow flexor-extensor muscles of normal human subjects. The median frequency of the power density spectra of the electromyograms recorded from the biceps and triceps muscles during a 3-s linear increase in flexion force in the range of 0-100% maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) was calculated for each subject, every 2 weeks over a total 6-week period during which subjects practiced linear flexion force increase three times a week. Electromyograms were recorded with two pairs of electrodes of different size and electrode spacing. It was shown that skill acquisition due to the 360 practice trials over the 6-week period caused an increase in the initial motor unit recruitment phase of the agonist's force generation cycle from about 0-65% MVC to about 0-85% MVC. The increase in the recruitment range was gradual and statistically significant for the measurements made every 2 weeks. The recruitment range of the antagonist triceps demonstrated a minor, but statistically insignificant, decrease over the same training period. There was a minor, but statistically insignificant, advantage of using small electrodes and inter-electrode spacing. It was concluded that skill acquisition, due to repeated functional use of a muscle in the same contraction mode, results in a slower, prolonged recruitment of motor units in the initial segment of the force generation cycle, thereby allowing a more precise and accurate control of the increments of force increase. Such conclusions reinforce the concept advocating the plasticity of motor unit control according to the functional demands imposed on the muscle. The results have significant implications in the design of various athletic, occupational and rehabilitation training modalities for optimal performance of various movement functions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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