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Rapid Force Production in Children and Adults: Mechanical and Neural Contributions

WAUGH, CHARLIE M.1,2; KORFF, THOMAS1; FATH, FLORIAN1; BLAZEVICH, ANTHONY J.1,3

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2013 - Volume 45 - Issue 4 - p 762–771
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31827a67ba
Applied Sciences

Purpose Children demonstrate lower force production capacities compared with adults, which has often been attributed to “neuromuscular immaturity.” However, tendon stiffness, which influences both the electromechanical delay (EMD) and rate of force development (RFD) in adults, is lower in children and may influence rapid force production. The aims of this study were 1) to document EMD and RFD variation as a function of age, 2) to determine the relationships between tendon stiffness and parameters relating to rapid force production in children and adults, and 3) to estimate the relative neural and mechanical contributions to age-related changes in force production by examining the effects of tendon stiffness and muscle activation rate (rate of EMG increase [REI]) on RFD.

Methods Achilles tendon stiffness, EMD, RFD, and REI were measured during plantarflexion contractions in 47 prepubertal children (5–12 yr) and 19 adults. Relationships were determined between 1) stiffness and EMD, 2) stiffness and RFD, and 3) REI and RFD. The relative contributions of age, stiffness, and REI on RFD were determined using a multiple regression analysis. Age-related differences in tendon stiffness, EMD, RFD, and REI were also examined according to chronological age (5–6, 7–8, and 9–10 yr) and compared with adults.

Results Increases in tendon stiffness with age were correlated with decreases in EMD (r < −0.83). Stiffness and REI could account for up to 35% and 30% of RFD variability in children, respectively, which increased to 58% when these variables were combined.

Conclusions Both neural and mechanical factors influence rapid force production in prepubertal children. Children’s longer EMD and slower RFD indicate a less effective development and transfer of muscular forces, which may have implications for complex movement performance.

1Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance, Brunel University, Middlesex, UNITED KINGDOM; 2Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UNITED KINGDOM; and 3Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research (CESSR) Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, AUSTRALIA

Address for correspondence: Anthony Blazevich, Ph.D., Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research, School of Exercise and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, 270 Joondalup Drive, Joondalup 6027, Australia; E-mail: a.blazevich@ecu.edu.au.

Submitted for publication June 2012.

Accepted for publication October 2012.

©2013The American College of Sports Medicine