, 37:47 | Cite as

Strength training-induced responses in older adults: attenuation of descending neural drive with age

  • Runar Unhjem
  • Raymond Lundestad
  • Marius Steiro Fimland
  • Mats Peder Mosti
  • Eivind Wang


Although reductions in resting H-reflex responses and maximal firing frequency suggest that reduced efferent drive may limit muscle strength in elderly, there are currently no reports of V-wave measurements in elderly, reflecting the magnitude of efferent output to the muscle during maximal contraction. Furthermore, it is uncertain whether potential age-related neural deficiencies can be restored by resistance training. We assessed evoked reflex recordings in the triceps surae muscles during rest and maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), rate of force development (RFD), and muscle mass in seven elderly (74 ± 6 years) males before and after 8 weeks of heavy resistance training, contrasted by seven young (24 ± 4 years) male controls. At baseline, m. soleus (SOL) V/M ratio (0.124 ± 0.082 vs. 0.465 ± 0.197, p < 0.05) and H/M ratio (0.379 ± 0.044 vs. 0.486 ± 0.101 p = 0.07) were attenuated in elderly compared to young. Also, SOL H-reflex latency (33.29 ± 2.41 vs. 30.29 ± 0.67 ms, p < 0.05) was longer in elderly. The reduced neural drive was, despite similar leg muscle mass (10.7 ± 1.2 vs. 11.5 ± 1.4 kg), mirrored by lower MVC (158 ± 48 vs. 240 ± 54 Nm, p < 0.05) and RFD (294 ± 126 vs. 533 ± 123 Nm s−1, p < 0.05) in elderly. In response to training SOL V/M ratio (0.184 ± 0.092, p < 0.05) increased in the elderly, yet only to a level ∼40 % of the young. This was accompanied by increased MVC (190 ± 70 Nm, p < 0.05) and RFD (401 ± 147 Nm⋅s−1, p < 0.05) to levels of ∼80 % and ∼75 % of the young. H/M ratio remained unchanged. These findings suggest that changes in supraspinal activation play a significant role in the age-related changes in muscle strength. Furthermore, this motor system impairment can to some extent be improved by heavy resistance training.


Aging Muscle strength Neural drive V-wave H-reflex 



One repetition maximum


Musculus gastrocnemius lateralis


Musculus gastrocnemius medialis


Maximal H-reflex amplitude


Maximal M-wave amplitude obtained during rest


Maximal M-wave amplitude obtained during maximal voluntary contraction


Maximal voluntary contraction


Rate of force development


Musculus tibialis anterior


Maximal V-wave amplitude



The authors would like to thank the senior citizens who volunteered to participate in this study for their time and efforts.

Conflict of interests

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this paper. The study was funded by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.


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Copyright information

© American Aging Association 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Runar Unhjem
    • 1
  • Raymond Lundestad
    • 1
  • Marius Steiro Fimland
    • 2
  • Mats Peder Mosti
    • 3
  • Eivind Wang
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging, Faculty of MedicineNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway
  2. 2.Department of Public Health and General Practice, Faculty of MedicineNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway
  3. 3.Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of MedicineNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway

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