Adaptations in motor unit properties underlying changes in recruitment, rate coding, and maximum force

Jakob Dideriksen*, Alessandro Del Vecchio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Changes in the discharge characteristics of motor units as well as in the maximum force-producing capacity of the muscle are observed following training, aging, and fatiguability. The ability to measure the adaptations in the neuromuscular properties underlying these changes experimentally, however, is limited. In this study we used a computational model to systematically investigate the effects of various neural and muscular adaptations on motor unit recruitment thresholds, average motor unit discharge rates in submaximal contractions, and maximum force. The primary focus was to identify candidate adaptations that can explain experimentally observed changes in motor unit discharge characteristics after 4 wk of strength training (Del Vecchio A, Casolo A, Negro F, Scorcelletti M, Bazzucchi I, Enoka R, Felici F, Farina D. J Physiol 597: 1873-1887, 2019). The simulation results indicated that multiple combinations of adaptations, likely involving an increase in maximum discharge rate across motor units, may occur after such training. On a more general level, we found that the magnitude of the adaptations scales linearly with the change in recruitment thresholds, discharge rates, and maximum force. In addition, the combination of multiple adaptations can be predicted as the linear sum of their individual effects. Together, this implies that the outcomes of the simulations can be generalized to predict the effect of any combination of neural and muscular adaptations. In this way, the study provides a tool for estimating potential underlying adaptations in neural and muscular properties to explain any change in commonly used measures of rate coding, recruitment, and maximum force.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)235-246
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023


  • Adaptation, Physiological/physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Isometric Contraction/physiology
  • Muscle Contraction/physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal/physiology
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological/physiology
  • motor unit
  • computational model
  • neuromuscular adaptations


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