Changes in force, surface and motor unit EMG during post-exercise development of low frequency fatigue in vastus lateralis muscle

C.J. de Ruiter, M.J. Elzinga, P.W.L. Verdijk, W. van Mechelen, A. de Haan

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We investigated the effects of low frequency fatigue (LFF) on post-exercise changes in rectified surface EMG (rsEMG) and single motor unit EMG (smuEMG) in vastus lateralis muscle (n=9). On two experimental days the knee extensors were fatigued with a 60-s-isometric contraction (exercise) at 50% maximal force capacity (MFC). On the first day post-exercise (15 s, 3, 9, 15, 21 and 27 min) rsEMG and electrically-induced (surface stimulation) forces were investigated. SmuEMG was obtained on day two. During short ramp and hold (5 s) contractions at 50% MFC, motor unit discharges of the same units were followed over time. Post-exercise MFC and tetanic force (100 Hz stimulation) recovered to about 90% of the pre-exercise values, but recovery with 20 Hz stimulation was less complete: the 20-100 Hz force ratio (mean ± SD) decreased from 0.65±0.06 (pre-exercise) to 0.56±0.04 at 27 min post-exercise (P<0.05), indicative of LFF. At 50% MFC, pre-exercise rsEMG (% pre-exercise maximum) and motor unit discharge rate were 51.1±12.7% and 14.1±3.7 (pulses per second; pps) respectively, 15 s post-exercise the respective values were 61.4±15.4% (P<0.05) and 13.2±5.6 pps (P>0.05). Thereafter, rsEMG (at 50% MFC) remained stable but motor unit discharge rate significantly increased to 17.7±3.9 pps 27 min post-exercise. The recruitment threshold decreased (P<0.05) from 27.7±6.6% MFC before exercise to 25.2±6.7% 27 min post-exercise. The increase in discharge rate was significantly greater than could be expected from the decrease in recruitment threshold. Thus, post-exercise LFF was compensated by increased motor unit discharge rates which could only partly be accounted for by the small decrease in motor unit recruitment threshold. © Springer-Verlag 2005.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-69
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean journal of applied physiology
Issue number5-6
Early online date11 May 2005
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2005


  • Adaptation, Physiological/physiology
  • Adult
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electromyography/methods
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction/physiology
  • Knee/physiology
  • Male
  • Motor Neurons/physiology
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle Fatigue/physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal/innervation
  • Physical Endurance/physiology
  • Stress, Mechanical

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