Reliability of quadriceps surface electromyography measurements is improved by two vs. single site recordings

Purpose: The reliability of surface electromyography (sEMG) is typically modest even with rigorous methods, and therefore further improvements in sEMG reliability are desirable. This study compared the between-session reliability (both within participant absolute reliability and between-participant relative reliability) of sEMG amplitude from single vs. average of two distinct recording sites, for individual muscle (IM) and whole quadriceps (WQ) measures during voluntary and evoked contractions. Methods: Healthy males (n = 20) performed unilateral isometric knee extension contractions: voluntary maximum and submaximum (60%), as well as evoked twitch contractions on two separate days. sEMG was recorded from two distinct sites on each superficial quadriceps muscle. Results: Averaging two recording sites vs. using single site measures improved reliability for IM and WQ measurements during voluntary (16–26% reduction in within-participant coefficient of variation, CVW) and evoked contractions (40–56% reduction in CVW). Conclusions: For sEMG measurements from large muscles, averaging the recording of two distinct sites is recommended as it improves within-participant reliability. This improved sensitivity has application to clinical and research measurement of sEMG amplitude.