Longitudinal decline of neuromuscular activation and power in healthy older adults

David J. Clark, Rachele M. Pojednic, Kieran F. Reid, Carolynn Patten, Evan P. Pasha, Edward M. Phillips, Roger A. Fielding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Background. Weakness contributes to the decline of physical function that occurs with aging. Contradictory findings have been reported as to whether neuromuscular activation is impaired with aging, and the extent to which it contributes to weakness. The present study uses a longitudinal design to assess how potential age-related change of neuromuscular activation affects strength, power, and mobility function. Methods. Participants included 16 healthy older adults who were healthy and high functioning at baseline. Strength was measured by leg press one repetition maximum. Power production was measured during a maximal effort rapid leg press movement with resistance set to 70% of the one repetition maximum. During the same movement, neuromuscular activation was quantified as the rate of rise of the quadriceps surface electromyogram (rate of electromyogram rise). Thigh muscle cross-sectional area was measured by computed tomography. Mobility function was assessed by the Short Physical Performance Battery. Results. The time between baseline and follow-up testing was almost 3 years. Between these time points, rate of electromyogram rise decreased 28% (p =. 004) and power decreased 16.5% (p =. 01). There was a trend for reduced anterior thigh muscle cross-sectional area (3%, p =. 05), but no change in posterior thigh muscle cross-sectional area (p =. 84), one repetition maximum strength (p =. 72), or Short Physical Performance Battery score (p =. 17). Loss of power was strongly associated with reduction in the rate of electromyogram rise (R2 =. 61, p <. 001), but not with reduction of anterior thigh muscle cross-sectional area (p =. 83). Conclusions. The present findings suggest that voluntary neuromuscular activation declines with advancing age, contributes to a reduction in power production, and precedes the decline of mobility function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1419-1425
Number of pages7
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Motor control
  • Muscle
  • Physical function
  • Physical performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Longitudinal decline of neuromuscular activation and power in healthy older adults'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this