Neural and Muscular Contributions to the Age-Related Reductions in Rapid Strength

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Abstract

Introduction

The purposes of this study were to investigate the age-related differences in absolute and normalized plantarflexion rate of torque development (RTD) at early (0–50 ms) and late (100–200 ms) time intervals and to examine specific neural and muscular mechanisms contributing to these differences.

Methods

Thirty-two young (20.0 ± 2.1 yr) and 20 older (69.5 ± 3.3 yr) recreationally active men performed rapid plantarflexion isometric muscle actions to examine absolute and normalized RTD and muscle activation using EMG at early and late time intervals. Ultrasonography was used to examine medial gastrocnemius muscle size, echo intensity (EI), and muscle architecture (fascicle length [FL] and pennation angle [PA]).

Results

The older men were weaker (23.9%, P < 0.001) and had lower later absolute and normalized RTD (P = 0.001–0.034) variables when compared with the young men. The older men also had higher EI (P < 0.001), smaller PA (P = 0.004), and lower later EMG amplitude values (P = 0.009–0.046). However, there were no differences in early RTD and EMG amplitude values, muscle size, or FL between groups (P = 0.097–0.914). Lower late RTD values were related to higher EI, smaller PA, and lower EMG amplitude values (r = −0.28–0.59, P = 0.001–0.044); however, late RTD values were no longer related to PA after normalizing to peak torque.

Conclusions

Age-related alterations in muscle quality (EI), architecture, and muscle activation may influence rapid torque production at late time intervals (≥100 ms) from contraction onset. These findings highlight specific neuromuscular factors that influence the age-related reductions in RTD, which has been shown to significantly influence function and performance in older adults.

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