European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 118, Issue 3, pp 501–521 | Cite as

Determinants, analysis and interpretation of the muscle compound action potential (M wave) in humans: implications for the study of muscle fatigue

Invited Review


The compound muscle action potential (M wave) has been commonly used to assess the peripheral properties of the neuromuscular system. More specifically, changes in the M-wave features are used to examine alterations in neuromuscular propagation that can occur during fatiguing contractions. The utility of the M wave is based on the assumption that impaired neuromuscular propagation results in a decrease in M-wave size. However, there remains controversy on whether the size of the M wave is increased or decreased during and/or after high-intensity exercise. The controversy partly arises from the fact that previous authors have considered the M wave as a whole, i.e., without analyzing separately its first and second phases. However, in a series of studies we have demonstrated that the first and second phases of the M wave behave in a different manner during and after fatiguing contractions. The present review is aimed at five main objectives: (1) to describe the mechanistic factors that determine the M-wave shape; (2) to analyze the various factors influencing M-wave properties; (3) to emphasize the need to analyze separately the first and second M-wave phases to adequately identify and interpret changes in muscle fiber membrane properties; (4) to advance the hypothesis that it is an increase (and not a decrease) of the M-wave first phase which reflects impaired sarcolemmal membrane excitability; and (5) to revisit the involvement of impaired sarcolemmal membrane excitability in the reduction of the force generating capacity.


Compound muscle action potential End-of-fiber signals Sarcolemmal membrane excitability Conduction velocity Quadriceps Surface electromyography Transcutaneous electrical stimulation 



Amplitude of the first phase of the M wave


Amplitude of the second phase of the M wave


Area of the first phase of the M wave


Area of the second phase of the M wave


Duration of the first phase of the M wave


Duration of the second phase of the M wave




Motor unit action potential


Maximal voluntary contraction


No mechanism proposed


Not significant


Single fiber action potential


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Electrical and Electronical EngineeringPublic University of NavarraPamplonaSpain
  2. 2.Institute of Sport SciencesUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

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