Document Type




Publication Date



American College of Sports Medicine

Source Publication

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

Source ISSN



Whether there are age-related differences in neural drive during maximal effort contractions is not clear. This review determined the effect of age on voluntary activation during maximal voluntary isometric contractions. The literature was systematically reviewed for studies reporting voluntary activation quantified with the interpolated twitch technique (ITT) or central activation ratio (CAR) during isometric contractions in young (18–35 yr) and old adults (>60 yr; mean, ≥65 yr). Of the 2697 articles identified, 54 were eligible for inclusion in the meta-analysis. Voluntary activation was assessed with electrical stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation on five different muscle groups. Random-effects meta-analysis revealed lower activation in old compared with young adults (d = −0.45; 95% confidence interval, −0.62 to −0.29; P < 0.001), with moderate heterogeneity (52.4%). To uncover the sources of heterogeneity, subgroup analyses were conducted for muscle group, calculation method (ITT or CAR), and stimulation type (electrical stimulation or transcranial magnetic stimulation) and number (single, paired, or train stimulations). The age-related reduction in voluntary activation occurred for all muscle groups investigated except the ankle dorsiflexors. Both ITT and CAR demonstrated an age-related reduction in voluntary activation of the elbow flexors, knee extensors, and plantar flexors. ITT performed with paired and train stimulations showed lower activation for old than young adults, with no age difference for the single electrical stimulation. Together, the meta-analysis revealed that healthy older adults have a reduced capacity to activate some upper and lower limb muscles during maximal voluntary isometric contractions; however, the effect was modest and best assessed with at least paired stimulations to detect the difference.


Accepted version. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Vol. 52, No. 3 (March 2020): 549-560. DOI. © 2020 American College of Sports Medicine. Used with permission.

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