Contraction-induced potentiation of human motor unit discharge and surface EMG activity

S. Suzuki, K. Kaiya, S. Watanabe, R. S. Hutton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


In quadrupeds, an electrically induced, moderate to high intensity brief muscle contraction potentiates autogenetic excitation and leads to enhanced recruitment and/or tonic firing frequency of α-motor neurons. To determine if similar adaptations occur in humans, single motor units (SMUs) and surface electromyographic activity (EMG) were recorded from the right biceps brachii before and immediately after a 5-s 25% or 50% maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), while subjects held a handle (0-1% MVC) attached to a force transducer or maintained a 2% MVC for 30-60 s. Of 26 SMUs recorded, 15 increased, 4 decreased, and 7 showed no change in firing frequency (mean increase: 5 imp/s, P < 0.01). Twelve SMUs had lower recruitment force thresholds after contraction. There was no significant treatment effect for the % MVC intensity. The postcontraction surface EMG power spectrum broadened, increased in amplitude, and contained a higher frequency component than the control contraction power spectrum. Changes in recruitment and/or frequency coding were reflected in the raw EMG records. Findings agree with previous reports in animals of contraction-induced potentiation of subsequent submaximal muscle contractions. Such acute adaptations in spinal neuromuscular pathways would function to optimize force output to a submaximal range of neural input frequencies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-395
Number of pages5
JournalMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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