Quadriceps muscle electromyography activity during physical activities and resistance exercise modes in younger and older adults

Ryan N. Marshall, Paul T. Morgan, Eduardo Martinez-valdes, Leigh Breen

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Understanding the root cause of the age-related impairment in muscle adaptive remodelling with resistance exercise training (RET) and developing pragmatic and accessible resistance exercise for older adults, are essential research directives.

We sought to determine whether indices of quadriceps muscle EMG activity in response to different modes of RET and activities of daily living (ADL), differed between 15 healthy younger (25 ± 3 years) and 15 older (70 ± 5 years) adults. On four separate days, participants completed a maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) of the knee extensors, followed by a 15 m walking task, stair climbing task (i.e. ADL) and lower-limb RET through body-weight squats (BW-RET) and seated knee extensions on a machine (MN-RET) or via elastic bands (EB-RET). Surface quadriceps electromyography (EMG) was measured throughout all tasks to provide indirect estimates of changes in muscle activity.

MVC was significantly greater in young vs. older adults (Young: 256 ± 72 vs. Old: 137 ± 48 N·m, P < 0.001). EMG activity during all exercise tasks was significantly higher in older vs. younger adults when expressed relative to maximal EMG achieved during MVC (P < 0.01, for all). In addition, relative quadriceps muscle EMG activity was significantly greater in EB-RET (Young: 20.3 ± 8.7 vs. Old: 37.0 ± 10.7%) and MN-RET (Young: 22.9 ± 10.3, vs. Old: 37.8 ± 10.8%) compared with BW-RET (Young: 8.6 ± 2.9 vs. Old: 27.0 ± 9.3%), in young and older adults (P < 0.001). However, there was no significant difference in quadriceps EMG between EB-RET and MN-RET (P > 0.05).

In conclusion, relative quadriceps muscle EMG activity was higher across a range of activities/exercise modes in older vs. younger adults. The similar quadriceps muscle EMG activity between EB-RET and MN-RET provides a platform for detailed investigation of the neuromuscular and muscle metabolic responses to such pragmatic forms of RET to strengthen the evidence-base for this mode of RET as a potential countermeasure to sarcopenia.
Original languageEnglish
Article number110965
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental gerontology
Early online date30 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2020


  • Ageing
  • Electromyography
  • Muscle
  • Resistance exercise training


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