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Mechanical and Muscular Coordination Patterns during a High-Level Fencing Assault


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: February 2014 - Volume 46 - Issue 2 - p 341–350
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a6401b
Applied Sciences

Purpose This study aimed to investigate the coordination of lower limb muscles during a specific fencing gesture in relation to its mechanical effectiveness.

Methods Maximal isokinetic concentric and isometric plantarflexor, dorsiflexor, knee and hip extensor and flexor torques of 10 female elite saber fencers were assessed and compared between both legs. Sabers completed three trials of a specific fencing gesture (i.e., marché-fente) on a 6.60-m-long force platform system. Surface EMG activities of 15 lower limb muscles were recorded in time with ground reaction forces and separated into four distinct assault phases. EMG signals were normalized to the muscle activity assessed during maximal isometric contraction. Mechanical and EMG data were compared between both legs over the entire assault and in each phase (ANOVA). Potential correlations between muscle strength and average EMG activities were tested (Bravais–Pearson coefficient).

Results EMG activity patterns showed that rear hip and knee extensor and plantarflexor muscles were mainly activated during propulsive (concentric) phases, while front hip and knee extensor muscles were strongly solicited during the final braking (eccentric) phase to decelerate the body mass. Although fencers presented greater maximal hip (+10%) and knee (+26%) extensor strength in the front than in the rear leg (P < 0.05), rear hip and knee extensor strength was significantly correlated to the maximal anteroposterior velocity (r = 0.60–0.81). Moreover, muscle activity of the rear extensors was related to average velocity during the second propulsive phase (phase 3).

Conclusions This study gathers the first evidence of a crucial role of the rear extensor muscles in fencing speed performance. Such findings suggest interesting perspectives in the definition of specific training or rehabilitation programs for elite fencers.

1French National Institute of Sport (INSEP), Research Department, Laboratory Sport, Expertise and Performance, Paris, FRANCE; and 2CETAPS UPRES EA 3832, Faculty of Sports Sciences, University of Rouen, Mont Saint Aignan, FRANCE

Address for correspondence: Gaël Guilhem, Ph.D., Institut National du Sport, de l’Expertise et de la Performance, Département de la Recherche, Laboratoire Sport, Expertise et Performance, 11, avenue du Tremblay, 75012 Paris, France; E-mail:

Submitted for publication April 2013.

Accepted for publication July 2013.

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine