Maximal motor unit discharge rates in the quadriceps muscles of older weight lifters

Bentley Leong, Gary Kamen, Carolynn Patten, Jeanmarie R. Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Although the existence of 'neural factors' is regularly cited as an important contributor to muscular strength, we have little specific knowledge regarding the existence of such neural factors or how they contribute to the expression of muscular force. Purpose: The present investigation sought to assess maximal motor unit discharge rates in older, highly resistance-trained adults to determine whether maximal motor unit discharge rates might be one such neural contributor to maximal strength production. Methods: Subjects consisted of seven well-trained older weight lifters (ages 67-79 yr) and five untrained age-matched older adults. While subjects performed 50 and 100% maximal voluntary knee extensor contractions (MVC), recordings from groups of motor units were obtained from the rectus femoris muscle by using an indwelling electrode. Off-line analysis was performed to identify individual motor unit firing occurrences and to compute maximal motor unit discharge rates. Results: As expected, knee extension strength in the trained weight lifters (367.0 ± 72.0 N) was significantly greater than that in the control subjects (299.9 ± 35.9 N; P < 0.05). Motor unit discharge rates were similar in the two subject groups at the 50% MVC force level (P > 0.05), but maximal (100% MVC) motor unit discharge rate in the weight lifters (23.8 ± 7.71 pps) was significantly greater than that in the age-matched controls (19.1 ± 6.29 pps; P < 0.05). Conclusion: Motor unit discharge rates may comprise an important neural factor contributing to maximal strength in older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1638-1644
Number of pages7
JournalMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Exercise
  • Force
  • Human
  • Motoneuron
  • Rate coding
  • Recruitment
  • Strength

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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