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Training-induced improvements in knee extensor force accuracy are associated with reduced vastus lateralis motor unit firing variability


Isabel A. Ely

Eleanor J. Jones

Thomas B. Inns


Sarah B. J. Miller

Daniel W. Stashuk

Philip J. Atherton

Bethan E. Phillips


New Findings: What is the central question of this study? Can bilateral knee extensor force accuracy be improved following 4 weeks of unilateral force accuracy training and are there any subsequent alterations to central and/or peripheral motor unit features? What is the main finding and its importance? In the trained limb only, knee extensor force tracking accuracy improved with reduced motor unit firing rate variability in the vastus lateralis, and there was no change to neuromuscular junction transmission instability. Interventional strategies to improve force accuracy may be directed to older/clinical populations where such improvements may aid performance of daily living activities. Abstract: Muscle force output during sustained submaximal isometric contractions fluctuates around an average value and is partly influenced by variation in motor unit (MU) firing rates. MU firing rate (FR) variability seemingly reduces following exercise training interventions; however, much less is known with respect to peripheral MU properties. We therefore investigated whether targeted force accuracy training could lead to improved muscle functional capacity and control, in addition to determining any alterations of individual MU features. Ten healthy participants (seven females, three males, 27±6 years, 170±8cm, 69±16kg) underwent a 4-week supervised, unilateral knee extensor force accuracy training intervention. The coefficient of variation for force (FORCECoV) and sinusoidal wave force tracking accuracy (FORCESinu) were determined at 25% maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) pre- and post-training. Intramuscular electromyography was utilised to record individual MU potentials from the vastus lateralis (VL) muscles at 25% MVC during sustained contractions, pre- and post-training. Knee extensor muscle strength remained unchanged following training, with no improvements in unilateral leg-balance. FORCECoV and FORCESinu significantly improved in only the trained knee extensors by ∼13% (P =0.01) and ∼30% (P <0.0001), respectively. MU FR variability significantly reduced in the trained VL by ∼16% (n =8; P= 0.001), with no further alterations to MU FR or neuromuscular junction transmission instability. Our results suggest muscle force control and tracking accuracy is a trainable characteristic in the knee extensors, which is likely explained by the reduction in MU FR variability which was apparent in the trained limb only.


Ely, I. A., Jones, E. J., Inns, T. B., Dooley, S., Miller, S. B. J., Stashuk, D. W., …Piasecki, M. (2022). Training-induced improvements in knee extensor force accuracy are associated with reduced vastus lateralis motor unit firing variability. Experimental Physiology,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 28, 2022
Online Publication Date Aug 12, 2022
Publication Date Aug 3, 2022
Deposit Date Aug 8, 2022
Publicly Available Date Aug 15, 2022
Journal Experimental Physiology
Print ISSN 0958-0670
Electronic ISSN 1469-445X
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords RESEARCH ARTICLE, MUSCLE, electromyography, firing rate variability, motor unit, muscle force accuracy, neuromuscular function
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Received: 2022-02-11; Accepted: 2022-07-28; Published: 2022-08-03


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