Does quadriceps neuromuscular activation capability explain walking speed in older men and women?

David J. Clark, Kieran F. Reid, Carolynn Patten, Edward M. Phillips, Sarah A. Ring, Samuel S. Wu, Roger A. Fielding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Age-related impairment of neuromuscular activation has been shown to contribute to weakness in older adults. However, it is unclear to what extent impaired neuromuscular activation independently accounts for decline of mobility function. The hypothesis of this study is that the capability to produce rapid neuromuscular activation during maximal effort leg muscle contractions will be shown to be an independent predictor of mobility function in older men and women after accounting for muscle size and adiposity, body composition and age. Twenty six older men and eighteen older women (aged 70-85. years) participated in this study. Mobility function was assessed by the 400-m walk test. Neuromuscular activation of the quadriceps muscle group was assessed by surface electromyography ("rate of EMG rise"). Thigh muscle cross sectional area and adiposity were assessed by computed tomography. In males, univariate regression analysis revealed strong associations between walking speed and a number of predictors including age (p<. 0.01), muscle area (p<. 0.01), intermuscular adipose tissue area (p<. 0.01), and rate of EMG rise (p<. 0.001). Subsequent multiple regression analysis with all variables accounted for 72% of the variability in walking speed (p<.0001), with age and rate of EMG rise as the dominant variables in the model. In females, univariate analysis showed a significant association only between walking speed and subcutaneous adipose tissue area (p<. 0.05). Multiple regression analysis accounted for only 44% of the variability in walking speed, and was not statistically significant (p=0.18). The present findings indicate that the capability to rapidly activate the quadriceps muscle group is an important factor accounting for inter-individual variability of walking speed among older men, but not among older women. This research is important for informing the design of assessments and interventions that seek to detect and prevent impairments that contribute to age-related mobility disability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-53
Number of pages5
JournalExperimental Gerontology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Mobility
  • Muscle
  • Nervous system
  • Walking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Aging
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Endocrinology
  • Cell Biology


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