Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 237, Issue 10, pp 2653–2664 | Cite as

The effect of rate of torque development on motor unit recruitment and firing rates during isometric voluntary trapezoidal contractions

  • Jonathan D. Miller
  • C. J. Lund
  • Marissa D. Gingrich
  • Kyle L. Schtul
  • Mandy E. Wray
  • Trent J. HerdaEmail author
Research Article


It is common practice to examine motor unit (MU) activity according to mean firing rate (MFR) and action potential amplitude (MUAPAMP) vs. recruitment threshold (RT) relationships during isometric trapezoidal contractions. However, it is unknown whether the rate of torque development during the linearly increasing torque phase affects the activity of MUs during such contractions. Sixteen healthy males and females performed two isometric trapezoidal muscle actions at 40% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), one at a rate of torque development of 5% MVC/s (SLOW40) and one at 20% MVC/s (FAST40) during the linearly increasing torque phase. Surface electromyography (EMG) was recorded from the vastus lateralis (VL) via a 5-pin surface array sensor and decomposed into action potential trains of individual MUs, yielding MFRs and MUAPAMP which were regressed against RT separately for each contraction. Surface EMG amplitude recorded from leg extensors and flexors was used to quantify muscle activation and coactivation. MFR vs. RT relationship slopes were more negative (P = 0.003) for the SLOW40 (− 0.491 ± 0.101 pps/%MVC) than FAST40 (− 0.322 ± 0.109 pps/%MVC) and the slopes of the MUAPAMP vs. RT relationships (P = 0.022, SLOW40 = 0.0057 ± 0.0021 mV/%MVC, FAST40 = 0.0041 ± 0.0023 mV/%MVC) and muscle activation of the extensors (P < 0.001, SLOW40 = 36.3 ± 7.82%, FAST40 = 34.0 ± 6.26%) were greater for SLOW40 than FAST40. MU firing rates were lower and action potential amplitudes were larger in relation to recruitment thresholds for a contraction performed at a slower rate compared to a faster rate of isometric torque development. Differences in MU activity can exist as a function of rate of torque development during commonly performed isometric trapezoidal contractions.


Rate of torque development Motor unit decomposition Vastus lateralis Recruitment Firing rate 



The authors would like to thank the undergraduate research assistants who aided in the collection and analysis of data. We would also like to thank the subjects for their selfless participation.

Author contributions

JDM and TJH developed the research design. CJL, MDG, KLS, MEW collected and analyzed data. JDM analyzed data, performed statistical procedures, and prepared the figures and manuscript. TJH aided in manuscript preparation. All authors edited the manuscript and approved the final version.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan D. Miller
    • 1
  • C. J. Lund
    • 1
  • Marissa D. Gingrich
    • 1
  • Kyle L. Schtul
    • 1
  • Mandy E. Wray
    • 1
  • Trent J. Herda
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Neuromechanics Laboratory, Department of Health, Sport and Exercise SciencesUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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