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Fatigability of the knee extensors following high- and low-load resistance exercise sessions in trained men



Fatigability after gym-based resistance exercises with high and low loads has not been well described, thus limiting the translation of exhaustive low-weight prescription into athletic practice. We compared the fatigability and recovery of the knee extensor muscles for up to 1H after sessions that involved either high- or low-load resistance exercises.


16 trained men performed two resistance exercise sessions between 5 and 7 days apart. The LIGHT session involved five sets to task failure at 50% of maximal knee-extension strength, whereas the HEAVY session accrued repetitions across seven sets at intensities ≥ 80% maximal knee-extension strength. Measures of quadriceps maximal torque and rate of torque development were measured before, after, and 1H after each exercise session. Muscle activation (electromyography and voluntary activation) and contractility were measured from doublet stimulation of the femoral nerve during and after maximal contractions, respectively.


Greater declines in maximal rate of torque development were observed after the LIGHT compared with the HEAVY session (p < 0.001), with full recovery after 1H. Voluntary activation (100-Hz doublet stimulation) and surface electromyograms were reduced immediately after the HEAVY session only (p < 0.05), with greater declines in quadriceps twitch amplitudes after the LIGHT session (p < 0.01). Voluntary activation (100-Hz doublet stimulation) was reduced at 1H after both the HEAVY and LIGHT sessions (p < 0.05).


Despite differences in the decreases in muscle activation and contractility after high- and low-load resistance-exercise sessions, recovery of neuromuscular function was essentially complete after 1H of rest for both sessions.

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Fig. 1



1-Hour measurement time-point

½ RT:

Half relaxation time


Analysis of variance




Muscle compound action potential


Maximal voluntary contraction


Maximal voluntary torque


Measurement before exercise


Measurement after exercise

Quadriceps potentiated twitch


One repetition-maximum




Rate of voluntary torque development


Surface electromyogram


Standard deviation


Time to peak twitch


Voluntary activation


Vastus lateralis


Vastus medialis


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PM conceived and designed the research, TF and PM conducted the experiments. PM, TF, and RE processed and analysed the data. All authors contributed to the final editing and revision of the manuscript. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Paul W. Marshall.

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Marshall, P.W., Forward, T. & Enoka, R.M. Fatigability of the knee extensors following high- and low-load resistance exercise sessions in trained men. Eur J Appl Physiol (2021).

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  • Fatigability
  • Electromyography
  • Voluntary activation
  • Femoral nerve
  • Resistance exercise