Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 187, Issue 3, pp 373–385 | Cite as

Endpoint accuracy for a small and a large hand muscle in young and old adults during rapid, goal-directed isometric contractions

  • Brach PostonEmail author
  • Joel A. Enoka
  • Roger M. Enoka
Research Article


The minimum variance theory proposes that stronger (larger) muscles produce less variable trajectories compared with weaker (smaller) muscles and thus can accomplish more accurate contractions. The purpose of the study was to determine the influence of muscle size and trajectory variability on the endpoint accuracy of goal-directed isometric contractions. Twelve young (25 ± 5 years) and 12 old adults (76 ± 6 years) performed 100 trials with each of two muscles in both hands. Subjects were instructed to match the peak of a force trajectory to a target force by controlling either the abduction (first dorsal interosseus muscle; FDI) or adduction force (second palmar interosseus muscle; SPI) exerted by the index finger of each hand. The time to peak force was 150 ms and the peak force required was 25% of the maximal force that could be achieved in 150 ms. Endpoint accuracy and variability in force and time along with intramuscular EMG activity of the agonist muscle (FDI and SPI) involved in each task were quantified for each set of 100 trials. The MVC force was less for the SPI muscle, and the force endpoint error and variance were greater in the SPI muscle compared with the FDI muscle. Conversely, endpoint measures that included timing were similar for the two muscles. Trajectory variability was greater for the FDI muscle, but did not influence endpoint error for either muscle. The young and old adults had similar strength values, but the old adults were less accurate and more variable than the young subjects. Nonetheless, the accuracy and variability displayed by the old adults for the two muscles was the same as that observed for the young adults. The force accuracy and variability findings are consistent with the predictions of the minimum variance theory that motor-output variability is inversely related to muscle size, strength, and motor unit number.


Accuracy Variability Aging EMG Hand 



The National Institute on Aging supported the study with an award to R.M. Enoka (AG09000). Brach Poston was supported by a pre-doctoral training fellowship (T32 AG00279-05; P.I. Robert Schwartz, MD).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brach Poston
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Joel A. Enoka
    • 1
  • Roger M. Enoka
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Integrative PhysiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of KinesiologyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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