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JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Sex differences in fatigability of dynamic contractions

Sandra K Hunter
Experimental Physiology 2016, 101 (2): 250-5
26440505
What is the topic of this review? Women are usually less fatigable than men for isometric fatiguing contractions of similar intensity, but whether this occurs for dynamic tasks is less clear. This review presents evidence that the sex difference in muscle fatigue of repeated dynamic contractions is specific to the task requirements, including the velocity of shortening and the muscle group involved. What advances does it highlight? Contractile mechanisms are responsible for the sex differences in muscle fatigue for slow-velocity and low-load dynamic tasks. The variability of the sex difference in fatigability among dynamic tasks has implications for fatiguing contractions prescribed in training and rehabilitation to men and women. Women are usually less fatigable than men during single-limb isometric contractions, primarily because of sex-related differences in contractile mechanisms. It is less clear whether these sex differences in muscle fatigue occur for dynamic fatiguing tasks. This review highlights new findings that the sex difference in fatigability for dynamic shortening contractions with a single limb is dependent on the contraction velocity and the muscle group involved. Recent studies demonstrate that women are less fatigable than men for a dynamic task as follows: (i) the elbow-flexor muscles at slow- but not high-velocity contractions; and (ii) the knee-extensor muscles when muscle fatigue was quantified as a reduction in the maximal voluntary isometric contraction force after the dynamic fatiguing task. Contractile mechanisms are responsible for the sex difference in muscle fatigue of the dynamic contractions, with no evidence for a sex difference in the reduction in voluntary activation (i.e. central fatigue). Thus, these findings indicate that the sex difference in muscle fatigue of dynamic contractions is task specific. These data also challenge the assumption that men and women respond in a similar manner to training and rehabilitation that involve fatiguing contractions to overload the neuromuscular system. There is, however, a tremendous opportunity for conducting high-impact studies to gain insight into those factors that define the sex-based differences in muscle fatigue during dynamic tasks. Such studies can define the boundaries to human performance in both men and women during athletic endeavours, ergonomic tasks and rehabilitation.

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