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Neuromuscular Adaptations Associated with Knee Joint Angle-Specific Force Change


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: August 2014 - Volume 46 - Issue 8 - p 1525–1537
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000269
Basic Sciences

Purpose Neuromuscular adaptations to joint angle-specific force increases after isometric training have not yet been fully elucidated. This study examined angle-specific neuromuscular adaptations in response to isometric knee extension training at short (SL, joint angle 38.1° ± 3.7°) versus long (LL, 87.5° ± 6.0°) muscle lengths.

Methods Sixteen men trained three times a week for 6 wk either at SL (n = 8) or LL (n = 8). Voluntary maximal isometric knee extensor (MVC) force, doublet twitch force, EMG amplitudes (EMG/M max), and voluntary activation during MVC force (VA%) were measured at eight knee joint angles (30°–100°) at weeks 0, 3, and 6. Muscle volume and cross-sectional area (CSA) were measured from magnetic resonance imaging scans, and fascicle length (L f) was assessed using ultrasonography before and after training.

Results Clear joint angle specificity of force increase was seen in SL but not in LL. The 13.4% ± 9.7% (P = 0.01) force increase around the training angle in SL was related to changes in vastus lateralis and vastus medialis EMG/M max around the training angle (r = 0.84–0.88, P < 0.05), without changes in the doublet twitch force–angle relation or muscle size. In LL, muscle volume and CSA increased and the changes in CSA at specific muscle regions were correlated with changes in MVC force. A 5.4% ± 4.9% (P = 0.001) increase in L f found in both groups was not associated with angle-specific force changes. There were no angle-specific changes in VA%.

Conclusion The EMG/M max, although not VA%, results suggest that neural adaptations underpinned training-related changes at short quadriceps lengths, but hypertrophic changes predominated after training at long lengths. The findings of this study should contribute to the development of more effective and evidence-based rehabilitation and strength training protocols.

School of Exercise and Health Sciences, Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, AUSTRALIA

Address for correspondence: Marika Noorkõiv, PhD, Institute of Aging and Health, Newcastle University, 3-4 Claremont Terrace, Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE2 4AE, England; E-mail:

Submitted for publication July 2013.

Accepted for publication December 2013.

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine