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Impact of contraction intensity and velocity on vastus lateralis SEMG power spectrum and amplitude.


Surface electromyography (SEMG) is a noninvasive procedure available to researchers for identifying strategies used by the central nervous system (CNS) to control volitional movements (Wakeling, 2009). The SEMG waveform is typically resolved into its corresponding amplitude (SEMGAMP) and frequencies (SEMG-PSD). Signal amplitude (SEMG-AMP) is frequently used as an indirect measure of overall muscle activity and is usually reported as some form of integrated (SEMG-INT) or root mean square (SEMG-RMS) of the SEMG signal. The SEMG frequency or power spectrum density (SEMG-PSD) is typically measured as either the median (SEMG-MNF) or mean frequency (SEMG-MN), and is associated with the conduction velocity of the respective motor units (Kupa et al., 1995). Purportedly, a shift in the power spectrum towards higher frequencies is indicative of an increase in the average conduction velocity of active muscle fibers, indicating recruitment of larger-sized motor units, whilst a shift toward lower frequencies is indicative of a decrease in the average conduction velocity and de-recruitment (Wakeling, 2009). Although still unsettled, there is reasonable evidence to suggest faster fiber-types (fast-twitch [FT] motor units) generate higher SEMG frequencies and slower fiber-types (slow-twitch [ST] motor units) generate lower SEMG frequencies (von Tscharner & Nigg, 2008).

Presently, the interactive effect of force and velocity on SEMG parameters is both inconsistent and equivocal. For example, previous researchers have reported that as contraction velocity increases, SEMG-AMP can either increase (plateauing at about 3000 s-1) (Coburn et al., 2005) or decrease (Croce & Miller, 2006); and, as muscle force increases, SEMG-PSD can either increase (Karlsson & Gerdle, 2001), decrease (Komi & Viitsalo, 1976), does not show any particular relationship against force (Masuda et al., 2001), or is muscle fiber-type dependent (Bilodeau et al., 2003).

Overall, documented force- and velocity-specific alterations in SEMG profiles of the QF muscle have been parsimonious and relatively inconsistent, with no research directed toward a comprehensive analysis across a variety of forces and velocities. Accordingly, this research investigated the effect of contraction intensity (100%-, 75%-, 50%-, and 25%-maximum voluntary contraction [MVC]) and movement velocity (00 [isometric], 500, 1000, 2000, and 4000 s-1) on SEMG-MNF and SEMG-RMS of vastus lateralis (VL) muscle. As gender differences have been shown to exist for torque and SEMG profiles (Pincivero et al., 2004), this study investigated female participants only.



Eight healthy female university students (age, [+ or -] standard deviation = 23.1 [+ or -] 2.6 years, mean height - 161.8 [+ or -] 6.8 cm, mean weight = 64.6 [+ or -] 6.1 kg) with no known knee pathologies participated in the investigation. Subjects were verbally informed of the procedures and potential risks, and they read and signed an informed consent prior to participation. The Institutional Review Board of the University of New Hampshire approved this study.

Dynamometer Set Up

Subjects were tested on a HUMAC-NORM Isokinetic Dynamometer (Computer Sports Medicine, Inc. [CSMI], Stoughton, MA, 2009) using the dominant limb, which was defined as the leg with which the subject would kick a ball (Croce & Miller, 2006). Subjects were seated with stabilization straps placed around the chest, waist, and distal femur. Torque values were recorded in Nm, with real-time torque and position (ROM) data downloaded from the dynamometer into a BIOPAC MP 100 Data Acquisition and Analysis System (BIOPAC Systems Inc., Santa Barbara, CA, 2009) by way of external output channels, thus allowing for simultaneous recording and display of torque, position, and SEMG data.

Experimental Protocol

Dynamometer, torque, and position output signals were calibrated according to the appropriate systems' manuals (CSMI, 2009; BIOPAC Inc., 2009). Subjects were tested at five angular velocities (00 s-1 [isometric], 500 s-1, 1000 s-1, 2000 s-1, and 4000 s-1) and four contraction intensities (100%-, 75%-, 50%-, and 25%-MVC) through knee-joint angles of 00 (straight leg) and 900. At each test velocity subjects performed quadriceps' contractions at the desired intensity (extension) followed by a passive flexion of the hamstrings. Peak torque (PT) and average torque (AVT) were determined by the repetition at which maximum torque was achieved during a six-repetition trial. Order of contraction intensities and movement velocities tested was counterbalanced over subjects through sampling without replacement procedure.

For maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) tests, subjects were instructed to push into extension as hard as possible using strong verbal encouragement. An MVC was operationally defined as a maximal contraction that a subject accepts as maximal and that is produced with appropriate continuous feedback. Isometric MVCs were obtained with the knee flexed at 600 (Croce & Miller, 2006). All other muscle contractions were submaximal, and subjects were instructed to produce a torque corresponding to a specific percentage of their maximum at the corresponding velocity. For submaximal tests, subjects viewed a line graph of torque output and were instructed to reach, but not to exceed, the percent of maximum being tested (torque values produced were within 5% of the desired torque value). A 3-min rest was given between muscle actions to avoid fatigue.

Each repetition from which data were analyzed, moment and SEMG recordings were calculated between 500-to-700 of knee flexion. This portion of the range of motion was selected as: (1) frequencies at the extremes of muscle length might be less representative of actual spectral frequencies represented in the muscle (Kaman & Caldwell, 1996), and (2) this range represented only a 100 difference above and below the angle at which isometric measures were made, thereby reducing muscle length discrepancies between isometric and isovelocity conditions.

Recording of SEMG

Bipolar SEMG was used to determine the electrical activity of the VL during testing. Silver/silver chloride pre-gelled surface electrodes (Moore Medical Corporation) were placed 2.5 cm apart according to points recommended by Criswell (2011). A common reference electrode was placed over the head of the fibula. Skin preparation for electrode placement included removal of dead epithelial cells with a razor, isopropyl alcohol, and an abrasive pre-gel (Nuprep gel) to achieve a skin impedance of < 5 k[ohm]. The SEMG signal was amplified, filtered, and analog-to-digitally converted (BIOPAC Systems Inc., MP 150 system) on-line with a sampling rate of 4000 Hz. Raw SEMG signals were monitored on-line, stored, and processed through a Dell Optiplex computer with high and low pass filters of 20 and 500 Hz, respectively. Gain was set at 1,000 with a common mode rejection ratio of 90 dB.

The SEMG signal was filtered (AcqKnowledge 4.1 software, BIOPAC Inc.,) and SEMG-MNF and SEMG-RMS were calculated for the repetition in which peak torque occurred and the repetition at which the desired percent MVC occurred for each test velocity. The SEMG-RMS data were normalized against the SEMG-RMS obtained for each muscle during the isometric MVC and was used as a measure of overall muscular activity (Criswell, 2011). The SEMG-MNF was processed using Fast Fourier Transformation with a Hamming window and was used to determine potential changes in motor-unit recruitment strategies (von Tscharner & Nigg, 2008; Wakeling, 2009).

Statistical Analysis

Data were analyzed using the StatView statistical program (SAS Institute, 1998). Peak torque and AVT isometric (00) and isovelocity (500,1000, 2000, and 4000 s-1) values were compared using separate repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA). The interaction of movement velocity and contraction intensity on VL SEMG-MNF and SEMG-RMS were analyzed via separate 5 (velocity) x (4) (contraction intensity) repeated measures ANOVA. The conservative Greenhouse-Geisser factor was used to evaluate observed within-group F ratios. Criterion level for significance was p < 0.05.



Means and standard deviations for PT and AVT for maximum contractions at each velocity tested are shown in Table 1, Consistent with previous research, both PT and AVT of the quadriceps were greatest when tested isometric ally, followed by increasing isovelocity contractions (F4,36= 90.096, p < 0.0001 andF4, 36 = 122.161, p < 0.0001, respectively).

EMG Activity

SEMG- MNF values of the VL for movement velocity and contraction intensity are displayed in Table 2. Significant velocity (F4, 36 = 6.950, p < 0.001) and contraction intensity (F3, 27 = 3.029, p < 0.05) main effects were found. Post-hoc analyses indicated: (1) greater SEMG-MNF values during all isovelocity conditions compared to isometric condition, with highest values at 500 s-1 compared to 1000, 2000 and 4000 s-1; and, (2) greater SEMG-MNF at 100%MVC compared to 50%-, and 25%-MVC, with no significant differences between 100%-MVC and 75%-MVC.

Normalized SEMG- RMS values of the VL for movement velocity and contraction intensity are displayed in Table 3. Significant main effects for movement velocity (F4, 36 = 8.723, p < 0.001) and contraction intensity (F3, 27 = 260.167, p < 0.0001), and a significant movement velocity x contraction intensity interaction effect (F12, 108 = 4.218, p < 0.01) were found. Post-hoc analyses indicated the following results of consequence: (1) a linear increase in SEMG amplitude as contraction intensity and force increased from 25%- to 100%-MVC across all isovelocities; and, (2) a significant increase in SEMG-RMS across all isovelocity conditions compared to isometric condition and greater values at 2000 s-1 compared to 500 s-1, with no significant differences amongst 1000, 2000, and 4000 s-1.


Contraction Intensity (Force) and Velocity Relationships for PT and AVT

Results are consistent with the classical inverse relationship between torque (force) and velocity in that both PT and AVT were greatest when tested isometrically, followed by dynamic contractions at 500, 1000, 2000, and 4000 s-1 (Table 1). The literature is replete with data confirming this relationship and will not be discussed at any length here (Lieber, 2002). As anticipated, our data confirmed this relationship.

Contraction Intensity (Force) and Velocity Relationships for SEMG-MNF

Our results indicated greater SEMG-MNF values under all isovelocity conditions compared to isometric condition, and significantly higher SEMG-MNF values at 500 s-1 compared to those found at 1000, 2000 and 4000 s-1 (Table 2), These results are comparable to results reported by Croce et al. (unpublished data, 2011), who observed similar velocity-related spectral shifts in the vastus medialis (VM) and rectus femoris (RF) muscles, but are in opposition to results of Masuda et al (2001), who observed higher spectral frequencies under isometric contractions compared to that observed under isovelocity contractions between 600 and 2400 s-1; Aagaard et al (2000) and Croce et al (2000), who reported no significant relationship between velocity and SEMG-PSD; and, Gerdle et al (1988) and Cramer et al (2002), who reported spectral shifts based on the particular QF muscle investigated. Although results differ somewhat from the aforementioned investigations, discrepancies can be attributed to differences in the particular QF muscle investigated, differences in electrode placement, differences in isovelocities tested, and differences in the range of motion over which muscles were tested (the latter point being of most significance). Overall, our data indicated maximum recruitment of FT fibers during slow velocity (500 s-1) contractions compared to isometric or faster velocities.

To date, the literature is unclear as to the effect of force on QF spectral frequencies. For example, Croce et al. (unpublished data, 2011), Gerdle and Karlsson (1994), and Karlsson and Gerdle (2001), all reported positive, torque-dependent relationships with SEMG-PSD, whilst other researchers reported either no such relationship (eg, Coburn et al, 2005) or a relationship based on muscle fiber-type morphology (eg, Bilodeau et al, 2003). Our results concur with that of Croce et al. (unpublished data, 2011), Gerdle and Karlsson (1994), and Karlsson and Gerdle (2001), who likewise demonstrated increasing SEMG-MNF values with increasing contraction intensities and torque levels (Table 2). Observed increases in SEMG-MNF from our data provide some evidence of specific fiber-type activation during increasing contraction intensities as espoused by von Tscharner and Nigg (2008) and Wakeling (2009). It would make intuitive sense that during a higher contraction intensity of the QF muscle, there would be a greater recruitment of FT fibers than during lower contraction intensities.

Contraction Intensity (Force) and Velocity Relationships for SEMG-RMS

Results on contraction intensity and muscle amplitude (increased SEMG-RMS with increasing contraction intensities) were consistent with the literature for both isometric (Fukuda et al., 2010) and dynamic muscular contractions (Coburn et al., 2005). In our investigation, SEMG amplitude of active motor units increased significantly across increasing levels of contraction intensity (Table 3). Prior studies investigating force and isometric contractions found mostly a curvilinear increase in SEMG amplitude with increasing muscle force because of concurrent increases in motor unit recruitment and firing rate up to 80%-MVC, after which increases are due primarily to increases in firing rate (Coburn et al, 2005). Coburn et al (2005) in a similar, but more limited, investigation involving velocity (00 and 300 s-1) and contraction intensity (20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, and 100%) reported a high correlation between SEMG amplitude and force in both static and dynamic contractions.

Our data confirm this relationship as a nearly linear increase in SEMG-RMS was observed with increasing contraction intensities.

With regards to the impact of movement velocity on VL muscle amplitude, data indicated a significant increase in SEMG-RMS at all isovelocities compared to isometric and greater values at 2000 s-1 compared to 500 s-t (Table 3). Though precise comparisons between our data with that from other investigations are difficult due to differences in velocities and muscles tested, our data are consistent with previous research indicating lower muscle amplitude at lower isokinetic velocities compared to higher isokinetic velocities (Aagaard et al, 2000; Babault et al, 2002). Furthermore, observed lower SEMGRMS at low velocities support the concept of reduced neural drive to the muscle during high-load situations espoused by Perrine and Edgerton (1978). According to this theory, high-tension muscle loading leads to markedly lower SEMG-AMP and is most often displayed during maximum eccentric and slow concentric QF contractions. According to Perrine and Edgerton (1978), a threshold of 960 s-1 was the particular threshold at which one finds this increased inhibition to muscle, which most probably acts to limit maximal tension in the knee and thereby preserving musculoskeletal integrity (Croce and Miller, 2006).


During voluntary muscular contractions, the CNS controls muscle force by varying number of motor units recruited, types of motor units recruited (FT vs. ST), and motoneuron firing rates. Based on our data, the degree to which FT muscle fibers were recruited--as determined by higher SEMG-MNF values --during the diverse levels of contraction intensity and velocity further obfuscates the way in which the central nervous system (CNS) recruits muscle fibers during a specific motor task. Our results indicated that isovelocity movements facilitated a greater recruitment of FT fibers compared to isometric contractions, peaking at at 50 s-1 and not at faster isovelocities (e.g., 1000,2000 s-1, and 4000 s-1). It, therefore, appears that the degree to which the CNS coordinates muscular functioning is based on the interplay of both contraction intensity and force. This would have implications for resistance training programs wanting to maximize FT-fiber recruitment, where training with relatively slow dynamic movements would intensify the recruitment of FT fibers during the course of training. On the other hand, our data specified maximum muscle amplitude occurring at 2000 s-1. Consequently, if one were more interested maximizing muscle activation during resistance training, more moderately paced movements would work best.


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LP. Miller [1]

R.V. Croce [1]

W.J. Smith [2]

[1] Motor Control and Biomechanics Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH. USA

[2] Department of Electrical Engineering, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA

Corresponding Author: John Miller, PhD Tel. (603) 862-0263 Fax. (603) 862-0154 E-mail:
Table 1. Means and standard deviations (in parentheses) of knee
extensor peak torque (PT) and average torque (AVT) (in Nm) between 50-
and 70-degrees of knee-joint motion as a function of movement

 Movement Velocity

 [0.sup.0] x [s.sup.-1] [50.sup.0] x [s.sup.-1]

Peak Torque 194.79 (+31.81) 155.48 (+19.26)

Average Torque 186.98 (+31.91) 114.04 (+22.31)

 Movement Velocity

 [100.sup.0] x [s.sup.-1] [200.sup.0] x [s.sup.-1]

Peak Torque 127.30 (+13.84) 94.98 (+7.13)

Average Torque 101.43 (+18.93) 75.35 (+11.18)

 Movement Velocity

 [400.sup.0] x [s.sup.-1]

Peak Torque 76.91 (+15.03)

Average Torque 56.37 (+13.30)

* Note: Isometric PT was obtained at 600 knee flexion and AVT was the
average value over a 5-s contraction.; AVT for isovelocity movements
was the mean value between 50-and 70-degrees of knee-joint motion.

Table 2. Means and standard deviations (in parentheses) of vastus
lateralis (VL) surface electromyography-median frequency power
spectrum (SEMG-MNF) between 50-and 70-degrees of knee-joint motion as
a function of movement velocity and contraction intensity.

 Movement Velocity

 [0.sup.0] x [s.sup.-1] [50.sup.0] x [s.sup.-1]
Vastus Lateralis
(VL) 56.85 (+6-52) 65-92 (+8.79)

 Movement Velocity

 [100.sup.0] x [s.sup.-1] [200.sup.0] x [s.sup.-1]
Vastus Lateralis
(VL) 61.19(+9.43) 60.37 (+8.66)

 Movement Velocity

 [400.sup.0] x [s.sup.-1]
Vastus Lateralis
(VL) 62.32 (+8.96)

 Contraction Intensity

 Maximum Seventy-Five %

Vastus Lateralis 63.98 (+7.42) 61.06 (+7.72)

 Contraction Intensity

 Fifty % Twenty-Five %

Vastus Lateralis 59.97 (+8.13) 59.43 (+11.40)

Table 3. Means and standard deviations (in parentheses) of vastus
lateralis (VL) surface electromyography-root mean square (SEMG-RMS) as
a percent of maximum voluntary con contraction between 50-and 70-
degrees of knee-joint motion as a function of movement velocity and
contraction intensity.

 Movement Velocity

 [0.sup.0 x [s.sup.-1] [50.sup.0 x [s.sup.-1]
Vastus Lateralis
(VL) 0.59 (+6.52) 0.68 (+0.25)

 Movement Velocity

 [100.sup.0 x [s.sup.-1] [200.sup.0 x [s.sup.-1]
Vastus Lateralis
(VL) 0.72 (+0.29) 0.77 (+0.24)

 Movement Velocity

 [400.sup.0 x [s.sup.-1]
Vastus Lateralis
(VL) 0.73 (+0.27)

 Contraction Intensity

 Maximum Seventy-Five %

Vastus Lateralis 1.02 (+0.13) 0.79 (+0.14)

 Contraction Intensity

 Fifty % Twenty-Five %

Vastus Lateralis 0.59 (+0.17) 0.39 (+0.17)
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Author:Miller, Lp.; Croce, R.V.; Smith, W.J.
Publication:Journal of Applied Research
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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