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Supraspinal Fatigue Is Similar in Men and Women for a Low-Force Fatiguing Contraction


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 2011 - Volume 43 - Issue 10 - p 1873-1883
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318216ebd4
Basic Sciences

Purpose: This study determined the contribution of supraspinal fatigue to the sex difference in neuromuscular fatigue for a low-intensity fatiguing contraction. Because women have greater motor responses to arousal than men, we also examined whether cortical and motor nerve stimulation, techniques used to quantify central fatigue, would alter the sex difference in muscle fatigue.

Methods: In study 1, cortical stimulation was elicited during maximal voluntary contractions (MVC) before and after a submaximal isometric contraction at 20% MVC with the elbow flexor muscles in 29 young adults (20 ± 2.6 yr, 14 men). In study 2, 10 men and 10 women (19.1 ± 2.9 yr) performed a fatiguing contraction in the presence and absence of cortical and motor nerve stimulation.

Results: Study 1: Men had a briefer time to task failure than women (P = 0.009). Voluntary activation was reduced after the fatiguing contraction (P < 0.001) similarly for men and women. Motor-evoked potential area and the EMG silent period increased similarly with fatigue for both sexes. Peak relaxation rates, however, were greater for men than women and were associated with time to task failure (P < 0.05). Force fluctuations, RPE, HR, and mean arterial pressure increased at a greater rate for men than for women during the fatiguing contraction (P < 0.05). Study 2: Time to task failure, force fluctuations, and all other physiological variables assessed were similar for the control session and stimulation session (P > 0.05) for both men and women.

Conclusions: Supraspinal fatigue was similar for men and women after the low-force fatiguing contraction, and the sex difference in muscle fatigue was associated with peripheral mechanisms. Furthermore, supraspinal fatigue can be quantified in both men and women without influencing motor performance.

1Exercise Science Program, Department of Physical Therapy, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI; and 2Department of Clinical Laboratory Science, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

Address for correspondence: Sandra K. Hunter, Ph.D., Department of Physical Therapy, Marquette University, P.O. Box 1881, Milwaukee, WI 53201; E-mail:

Submitted for publication November 2010.

Accepted for publication February 2011.

©2011The American College of Sports Medicine