Impaired voluntary neuromuscular activation limits muscle power in mobility-limited older adults

David J. Clark, Carolynn Patten, Kieran F. Reid, Robert J. Carabello, Edward M. Phillips, Roger A. Fielding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Background.Age-related alterations of neuromuscular activation may contribute to deficits in muscle power and mobility function. This study assesses whether impaired activation of the agonist quadriceps and antagonist hamstrings, including amplitude-and velocity-dependent characteristics of activation, may explain differences in leg extension torque and power between healthy middle-aged, healthy older, and mobility-limited older adults.Methods.Torque, power, and electromyography were recorded during maximal voluntary leg extension trials across a range of velocities on an isokinetic dynamometer.Results.Neuromuscular activation was similar between middle-aged and older healthy groups, with differences in torque and power explained predominantly by muscle size. However, the older mobility-limited group demonstrated marked impairment of torque, power, and agonist muscle activation, with the greatest deficits occurring at the fastest movement velocities. Agonist muscle activation was found to be strongly associated with torque output.Conclusions.Similar neuromuscular activation between the middle-aged and older healthy groups indicates that impaired voluntary activation is not an obligatory consequence of aging. However, the finding that the mobility-limited group exhibited impaired activation of the agonist quadriceps and concomitant deficits in torque and power output suggests that neuromuscular activation deficits may contribute to compromised mobility function in older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)495-502
Number of pages8
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Volume65 A
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Electromyography
  • Strength

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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