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Plantar flexor activation capacity and H reflex in older adults: adaptations to strength training.

Scaglioni, Gil and Ferri, A. and Minetti, Alberto E. and Martin, A. and Van Hoecke, J. and Capodaglio, Paolo and Sartorio, A. and Narici, Marco V. (2002) Plantar flexor activation capacity and H reflex in older adults: adaptations to strength training. Journal of applied physiology, 92 (6). pp. 2292-2302. ISSN 8750-7587

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the voluntary neural drive and the excitability of the reflex arc could be modulated by training, even in old age. To this aim, the effects of a 16-wk strengthening program on plantar flexor voluntary activation (VA) and on the maximum Hoffman reflex (H(max))-to-maximum M wave (M(max)) ratio were investigated in 14 elderly men (65-80 yr). After training, isometric maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) increased by 18% (P < 0.05) and weight-lifting ability by 24% (P < 0.001). Twitch contraction time decreased by 8% (P < 0.01), but no changes in half relaxation time and in peak twitch torque were observed. The VA, assessed by twitch interpolation, increased from 95 to 98% (P < 0.05). Pretraining VA, also evaluated from the expected MVC for total twitch occlusion, was 7% higher (P < 0.01) than MVC. This discrepancy persisted after training. The interpolated twitch torque-voluntary torque relationship was fitted by a nonlinear model and was found to deviate from linearity for torque levels >65% MVC. Compared with younger men (24-35 yr), the H(max)- to M(max) ratio and nerve conduction velocity (H index) of the older group were significantly lower (42%, P < 0.05; and 29%, P < 0.001, respectively) and were not modulated by training. In conclusion, older men seem to preserve a high VA of plantar flexors. However, the impaired functionality of the reflex pathway with aging and the lack of modulation with exercise suggest that the decrease in the H(max)- to M(max) ratio and H index may be related to degenerative phenomena.

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