High-threshold motor unit firing reflects force recovery following a bout of damaging eccentric exercise



Macgregor LJ & Hunter AM (2018) High-threshold motor unit firing reflects force recovery following a bout of damaging eccentric exercise. PLoS ONE, 13 (4), Art. No.: e0195051.

Exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) is associated with impaired muscle function and reduced neuromuscular recruitment. However, motor unit firing behaviour throughout the recovery period is unclear. EIMD impairment of maximal voluntary force (MVC) will, in part, be caused by reduced high-threshold motor unit firing, which will subsequently increase to recover MVC. Fourteen healthy active males completed a bout of eccentric exercise on the knee extensors, with measurements of MVC, rate of torque development and surface electromyography performed pre-exercise and 2, 3, 7 and 14 days post-exercise, on both damaged and control limb. EIMD was associated with decreased MVC (235.2 ± 49.3 Nm vs. 161.3 ± 52.5 Nm; p < 0.001) and rate of torque development (495.7 ± 136.9 Nm.s-1 vs. 163.4 ± 163.7 Nm.s-1; p < 0.001) 48h post-exercise. Mean motor unit firing rate was reduced (16.4 ± 2.2 Hz vs. 12.6 ± 1.7 Hz; p < 0.01) in high-threshold motor units only, 48h post-exercise, and common drive was elevated (0.36 ± 0.027 vs. 0.56 ± 0.032; p < 0.001) 48h post-exercise. The firing rate of high-threshold motor units was reduced in parallel with impaired muscle function, whilst early recruited motor units remained unaltered. Common drive of motor units increased in offset to the firing rate impairment. These alterations correlated with the recovery of force decrement, but not of pain elevation. This study provides fresh insight into the central mechanisms associated with EIMD recovery, relative to muscle function. These findings may in turn lead to development of novel management and preventative procedures.

PLoS ONE: Volume 13, Issue 4

Publication date09/04/2018
Publication date online09/04/2018
Date accepted by journal11/03/2018
PublisherPublic Library of Science

People (2)


Professor Angus Hunter

Professor Angus Hunter

Honorary Professor, FHSS Management and Support

Dr Lewis Macgregor

Dr Lewis Macgregor

Lecturer in Physiology and Nutrition, Sport