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Tracking the corticospinal responses to strength training

Abstract

Purpose

The motor cortex (M1) appears to be a primary site of adaptation following both a single session, and repeated strength-training sessions across multiple weeks. Given that a single session of strength-training is sufficient to induce modification at the level of the M1 and corticospinal tract, this study sought to determine how these acute changes in M1 and corticospinal tract might accumulate across the course of a 2-week heavy-load strength-training program.

Methods

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was used to infer corticospinal excitability (CSE), intracortical facilitation (ICF), short and long-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI and LICI) and silent period duration prior to and following each training session during a 2-week heavy-load strength-training period.

Results

Following 2-weeks of strength-training, increases in strength (15.5%, P = 0.01) were accompanied by an increase in CSE (44%, P = 0.006) and reductions in both silent period duration (14%, P < 0.0001) and SICI (35%, P = 0.0004). Early training sessions acutely increased CSE and ICF, and acutely reduced silent period duration and SICI. However, later training sessions failed to modulate SICI and ICF, with substantial adaptations occurring offline between training sessions. No acute or retained changes in LICI were observed. Co-contraction of antagonists reduced by 36% following 2-weeks of strength-training.

Conclusions

Collectively, these results indicate that corticospinal plasticity occurs within and between training sessions throughout a training period in distinct early and later stages that are modulated by separate mechanisms of plasticity. The development of strength is akin to the previously reported changes that occur following motor skill training.

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Abbreviations

1-RM:

One-repetition maximum

AURC:

Area under the recruitment curve

AMT:

Active motor threshold

CSE:

Corticospinal excitability

CI:

Confidence interval

SD:

Standard deviation

ECR:

Extensor carpi radialis

EMG:

Electromyography

FCR:

Flexor carpi radialis

GABA:

γ-Aminobutyric acid

ICF:

Intracortical facilitation

LICI:

Long-interval cortical inhibition

MEP:

Motor-evoked potential

MMAX :

Maximal compound wave

MVIC:

Maximal voluntary isometric contraction

M1:

Primary motor cortex

rmsEMG:

Root-mean-square electromyography

RMT:

Resting motor threshold

sEMG:

Surface electromyography

SICI:

Short-interval cortical inhibition

SP:

Silent period

TMS:

Transcranial magnetic stimulation

rTMS:

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation

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Funding

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Author information

JM, AF, and DJK conceived and designed the study. JM, AF, GH and DJK conducted experiments, analyzed data, and drafted the first version of the manuscript. AJP, JA critically revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Correspondence to Dawson J. Kidgell.

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Mason, J., Frazer, A.K., Avela, J. et al. Tracking the corticospinal responses to strength training. Eur J Appl Physiol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-020-04316-6

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Keywords

  • Corticospinal excitability
  • Cortical plasticity
  • Intracortical facilitation
  • Short-interval cortical inhibition
  • Silent period
  • Strength training