Aging does not affect voluntary activation of the ankle dorsiflexors during isometric, concentric, and eccentric contractions

Malgorzata Klass, Stéphane Baudry, Jacques Duchateau
Journal of Applied Physiology 2005, 99 (1): 31-8
This study examines the age-related deficit in force of the ankle dorsiflexors during isometric (Iso), concentric (Con), and eccentric (Ecc) contractions. More specifically, the contribution of neural and muscular mechanisms to the loss of voluntary force was investigated in men and women. The torque produced by the dorsiflexors and the surface electromyogram (EMG) from the tibialis anterior and the soleus were recorded during maximal Iso contractions and during Con and Ecc contractions performed at constant angular velocities (5-100 degrees/s). Central activation was tested by the superimposed electrical stimulation method during maximal voluntary contraction and by computing the ratio between voluntary average EMG and compound muscle action potential (M wave) induced by electrical stimulation (average EMG/M wave). Contractile properties of the dorsiflexor muscles were investigated by recording the mechanical responses to single and paired maximal stimuli. The results showed that the age-related deficit in force (collapsed across genders and velocities) was greater for Iso (20.5%; P < 0.05) and Con (38.6%; P < 0.001) contractions compared with Ecc contractions (6.5%; P > 0.05). When the torque produced during Con and Ecc contractions was expressed relative to the maximal Iso torque, it was significantly reduced in Con contractions and increased in Ecc contractions with aging, with the latter effect being more pronounced for women. In both genders, voluntary activation was not significantly impaired in elderly adults and did not differ from young subjects. Similarly, coactivation was not changed with aging. In contrast, the mechanical responses to single and paired stimuli showed a general slowing of the muscle contractile kinetics with a slightly greater effect in women. It is concluded that the force deficit during Con and Iso contractions of the ankle dorsiflexors in advanced age cannot be explained by impaired voluntary activation or changes in coactivation. Instead, this age-related adaptation and the mechanisms that preserve force in Ecc contractions appeared to be located at the muscular level.

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