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The amplitude of the surface EMG does not reach the level achieved during a maximal voluntary contraction force at the end of a sustained, submaximal contraction, despite near-maximal levels of voluntary effort. The depression of EMG amplitude may be explained by several neural and muscular adjustments during fatiguing contractions, including decreased net neural drive to the muscle, changes in the shape of the motor unit action potentials, and EMG amplitude cancellation. The changes in these parameters for the entire motor unit pool, however, cannot be measured experimentally. The present study used a computational model to simulate the adjustments during sustained isometric contractions and thereby determine the relative importance of these factors in explaining the submaximal levels of EMG amplitude at task failure. The simulation results indicated that the amount of amplitude cancellation in the simulated EMG (∼ 40%) exhibited a negligible change during the fatiguing contractions. Instead, the main determinant of the submaximal EMG amplitude at task failure was a decrease in muscle activation (number of muscle fiber action potentials), due to a reduction in the net synaptic input to motor neurons, with a lesser contribution from changes in the shape of the motor unit action potentials. Despite the association between the submaximal EMG amplitude and reduced muscle activation, the deficit in EMG amplitude at task failure was not consistently associated with the decrease in neural drive (number of motor unit action potentials) to the muscle. This indicates that the EMG amplitude cannot be used as an index of neural drive.


Jakob L Dideriksen, Roger M Enoka, Dario Farina. Neuromuscular adjustments that constrain submaximal EMG amplitude at task failure of sustained isometric contractions. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985). 2011 Aug;111(2):485-94

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PMID: 21596915

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