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European Journal of Applied Physiology

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Whether reduced supraspinal activation contributes to age-related reductions in maximal torque during dynamic contractions is not known. The purpose was to determine whether there are age differences in voluntary activation and its variability when assessed with stimulation at the motor cortex and the muscle during maximal isometric, concentric, and eccentric contractions. Thirty young (23.6 ± 4.1 years) and 31 old (69.0 ± 5.2 years) adults performed maximal isometric, shortening (concentric) and lengthening (eccentric) contractions with the elbow flexor muscles. Maximal isometric contractions were performed at 90° elbow flexion and dynamic contractions at a velocity of 60°/s. Voluntary activation was assessed by superimposing an evoked contraction with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or with electrical stimulation over the muscle during maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs). Old adults had lower MVC torque during isometric (− 17.9%), concentric (− 19.7%), and eccentric (− 9.9%) contractions than young adults, with less of an age difference for eccentric contractions. Voluntary activation was similar between the three contraction types when assessed with TMS and electrical stimulation, with no age group differences. Old adults, however, were more variable in voluntary activation than young (standard deviation 0.99 ± 0.47% vs. 0.73 ± 0.43%, respectively) to both the motor cortex and muscle, and had greater coactivation of the antagonist muscles during dynamic contractions. Thus, the average voluntary activation to the motor cortex and muscle did not differ with aging; however, supraspinal activation was more variable during maximal dynamic and isometric contractions in the old adults. Lower predictability of voluntary activation may indicate subclinical changes in the central nervous system with advanced aging.


Accepted version. European Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 117, No. 12 (December 2017): 2493-2507. DOI. © 2017 Springer. Used with permission.

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