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Contrasting Influences of Age and Sex on Muscle Fatigue


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: February 2008 - Volume 40 - Issue 2 - p 234-241
doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31815bbb93
BASIC SCIENCES: Original Investigations

Purpose: Greater resistance to muscle fatigue has been observed in women versus men and in older versus young individuals. As suggested mechanisms for these differences include task intensity and duty cycle, the purpose of this study was to evaluate fatigue in healthy young and older men and women during maximum-effort isometric contractions with a 70% duty cycle (7 s of contraction, 3 s of rest). We hypothesized that no differences in fatigue would be observed across age or sex, in contrast to studies incorporating lower duty cycles.

Methods: The protocol was carried out on ankle dorsiflexors of older (73 ± 1 yr) and younger (25 ± 1 yr) men and women. Volitional and stimulated force, compound muscle action potential, and muscle contractile responses were collected before, during, and immediately after the fatigue protocol. These measurements allowed for assessment of fatigue as well as central and peripheral activation.

Results: At baseline, older subjects had longer force half-relaxation times and less twitch potentiation than younger subjects, consistent with a slower muscle phenotype. During contractions, younger subjects fatigued more than older subjects did, with no differences between men and women. Central activation decreased similarly in all groups with fatigue. There were no fatigue-related differences in peripheral excitation or contractile properties attributable to age or sex.

Conclusions: These data indicate that age-related differences in fatigue are observed even during intermittent MVC with a high duty cycle, and that these differences are independent of central and peripheral activation. Further, it seems that sex-based differences in both fatigue and central activation failure were abolished with this duty cycle. Overall, these results suggest that age- and sex-based differences in fatigue arise from distinct mechanisms.

Kinesiology Department, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

Address for correspondence: Jane A. Kent-Braun, Ph.D., Kinesiology Department, University of Massachusetts, 108 Totman Bldg, Amherst, MA 01003; E-mail:

Submitted for publication March 2007.

Accepted for publication August 2007.

©2008The American College of Sports Medicine