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Isometric tasks have been a standard for electromyography (EMG) normalization stemming from anatomic and physiologic stability observed during contraction. Ballistic dynamic tasks have the benefit of eliciting maximum EMG signals for normalization, despite having the potential for greater signal variability. It is the purpose of this study to compare maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) to nonisometric tasks with increasing degrees of extrinsic variability, ie, joint range of motion, velocity, rate of contraction, etc., to determine if the ballistic tasks, which elicit larger peak EMG signals, are more reliable than the constrained MVIC. Fifteen subjects performed MVIC, isokinetic, maximum countermovement jump, and sprint tasks while EMG was collected from 9 muscles in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and lower leg. The results revealed the unconstrained ballistic tasks were more reliable compared to the constrained MVIC and isokinetic tasks for all triceps surae muscles. The EMG from sprinting was more reliable than the constrained cases for both the hamstrings and vasti. The most reliable EMG signals occurred when the body was permitted its natural, unconstrained motion. These results suggest that EMG is best normalized using ballistic tasks to provide the greatest within-subject reliability, which beneficially yield maximum EMG values.
Suydam, Manal, and Buchanan are with the Delaware Rehabilitation Institute, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA.