Behavior of motor units during submaximal isometric contractions in chronically strength-trained individuals
Neural and morphological adaptations combine to underpin the enhanced muscle strength following prolonged exposure to strength training, although their relative importance remains unclear. We investigated the contribution of motor unit (MU) behavior and muscle size to submaximal force production in chronically strength-trained athletes (ST) versus untrained controls (UT). Sixteen ST (age: 22.9 ± 3.5 yr; training experience: 5.9 ± 3.5 yr) and 14 UT (age: 20.4 ± 2.3 yr) performed maximal voluntary isometric force (MViF) and ramp contractions (at 15%, 35%, 50%, and 70% MViF) with elbow flexors, whilst high-density surface electromyography (HDsEMG) was recorded from the biceps brachii (BB). Recruitment thresholds (RTs) and discharge rates (DRs) of MUs identified from the submaximal contractions were assessed. The neural drive-to-muscle gain was estimated from the relation between changes in force (DFORCE, i.e. muscle output) relative to changes in MU DR (DDR, i.e. neural input). BB maximum anatomical cross-sectional area (ACSAMAX) was also assessed by MRI. MViF (+64.8% vs. UT, P < 0.001) and BB ACSAMAX (+71.9%, P < 0.001) were higher in ST. Absolute MU RT was higher in ST (+62.6%, P < 0.001), but occurred at similar normalized forces. MU DR did not differ between groups at the same normalized forces. The absolute slope of the ΔFORCE - ΔDR relationship was higher in ST (+66.9%, P = 0.002), whereas it did not differ for normalized values. We observed similar MU behavior between ST athletes and UT controls. The greater absolute force-generating capacity of ST for the same neural input demonstrates that morphological, rather than neural, factors are the predominant mechanism for their enhanced force generation during submaximal efforts.
- Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences