The current understanding of child-adult differences in muscular and neuromotor function will be reviewed while highlighting the gaps in our knowledge and raising research questions that could be addressed in the immediate or near future. Topics include muscle activation, muscle composition, strength attributes, strength- and aerobic-training, neuromotor development, where neuromuscular differences originate from, and the possible interrelationships between motor and cognitive function. The various differences will be discussed on their specific merits, but also as possible manifestations of a common underlying factor which, if true, could provide a more holistic view of child-adult functional differences.
The multisession maximal lactate steady-state (MLSS) test is the gold standard for anaerobic threshold (AnT) estimation. However, it is highly impractical, requires high fitness level, and suffers additional shortcomings. Existing single-session AnT-estimating tests are of compromised validity, reliability, and resolution. The presented reverse lactate threshold test (RLT) is a single-session, AnT-estimating test, aimed at avoiding the pitfalls of existing tests. It is based on the novel concept of identifying blood lactate’s maximal appearance-disappearance equilibrium by approaching the AnT from higher, rather than from lower exercise intensities. Rowing, cycling, and running case data (4 recreational and competitive athletes, male and female, aged 17–39 y) are presented. Subjects performed the RLT test and, on a separate session, a single 30-min MLSS-type verification test at the RLT-determined intensity. The RLT and its MLSS verification exhibited exceptional agreement at 0.5% discrepancy or better. The RLT’s training sensitivity was demonstrated by a case of 2.5-mo training regimen following which the RLT’s 15-W improvement was fully MLSS-verified. The RLT’s test-retest reliability was examined in 10 trained and untrained subjects. Test 2 differed from test 1 by only 0.3% with an intraclass correlation of 0.997. The data suggest RLT to accurately and reliably estimate AnT (as represented by MLSS verification) with high resolution and in distinctly different sports and to be sensitive to training adaptations. Compared with MLSS, the single-session RLT is highly practical and its lower fitness requirements make it applicable to athletes and untrained individuals alike. Further research is needed to establish RLT’s validity and accuracy in larger samples.
Bareket Falk and Raffy Dotan
The assessment of maximal aerobic power (
Cameron Mitchell, Rotem Cohen, Raffy Dotan, David Gabriel, Panagiota Klentrou and Bareket Falk
Previous studies in adults have demonstrated power athletes as having greater muscle force and muscle activation than nonathletes. Findings on endurance athletes are scarce and inconsistent. No comparable data on child athletes exist.
This study compared peak torque (Tq), peak rate of torque development (RTD), and rate of muscle activation (EMG rise, Q30), in isometric knee extension (KE) and fexion (KF), in pre- and early-pubertal power- and endurance-trained boys vs minimally active nonathletes.
Nine gymnasts, 12 swimmers, and 18 nonathletes (7–12 y), performed fast, maximal isometric KE and KF. Values for Tq, RTD, electromechanical delay (EMD), and Q30 were calculated from averaged torque and surface EMG traces.
No group differences were observed in Tq, normalized for muscle cross-sectional area. The Tq-normalized KE RTD was highest in power athletes (6.2 ± 1.9, 4.7 ± 1.2, 5.0 ± 1.5 N·m·s–1, for power, endurance, and nonathletes, respectively), whereas no group differences were observed for KF. The KE Q30 was significantly greater in power athletes, both in absolute terms and relative to peak EMG amplitude (9.8 ± 7.0, 5.9 ± 4.2, 4.4 ± 2.2 mV·ms and 1.7 ± 0.8, 1.1 ± 0.6, 0.9 ± 0.5 (mV·ms)/(mV) for power, endurance, and nonathletes, respectively), with no group differences in KF. The KE EMD tended to be shorter (P = .07) in power athletes during KE (71.0 ± 24.1, 87.8 ± 18.0, 88.4 ± 27.8 ms, for power, endurance, and nonathletes), with no group differences in KF.
Pre- and early-pubertal power athletes have enhanced rate of muscle activation in specifically trained muscles compared with controls or endurance athletes, suggesting that specific training can result in muscle activation-pattern changes before the onset of puberty.
Bareket Falk, Laura Brunton, Raffy Dotan, Charlotte Usselman, Panagiota Klentrou and Davie Gabriel
Ten prepubertal girls and 15 young women were tested for maximal torque, peak rate of torque development, electro-mechanical delay (EMD), and time to peak rate of torque development during isometric elbow flexion. Absolute peak torque (17.0 ± 7.7 vs. 40.5 ± 8.3 Nm) and peak rate of torque development (105.9 ± 58.6 vs. 297.2 ± 113.0 Nm·s−1) were lower in the girls (p < .05). Normalized to muscle cross sectional area, torque was similar (8.27 ± 2.74 vs. 8.44 ± 1.65 Nm·cm−2), as was peak rate of torque development, normalized to peak torque (6.21 ± 1.94 vs. 7.30 ± 2.26 Nm·s−1/Nm). Both, time to peak rate of torque development (123.8 ± 36.0 vs. 110.5 ± 52.6 ms) and EMD (73.2 ± 28.6 vs. 51.9 ± 25.6 ms), were longer in the girls, although EMD’s difference only approached statistical significance (p = .06). Age-related isometric strength differences in females appear to be mainly muscle-size dependent. However, the time to peak torque and EMD findings suggest differential motor-unit activation which may functionally manifest itself in fast dynamic contractions.
Devon Long, Raffy Dotan, Brynlynn Pitt, Brandon McKinlay, Thomas D. O’Brien, Craig Tokuno and Bareket Falk
The electromyographic threshold (EMGTh) is thought to reflect increased high-threshold/type-II motor-unit (MU) recruitment and was shown higher in boys than in men. Women differ from men in muscular function.
Establish whether females’ EMGTh and girls–women differences are different than males’.
Nineteen women (22.9 ± 3.3yrs) and 20 girls (10.3 ± 1.1yrs) had surface EMG recorded from the right and left vastus lateralis muscles during ramped cycle-ergometry to exhaustion. EMG root-mean-squares were averaged per pedal revolution. EMGTh was determined as the least residual sum of squares for any two regression-line data divisions, if the trace rose ≥ 3SD above its regression line. EMGTh was expressed as % final power-output (%Pmax) and %VO2pk power (%PVO2pk).
EMGTh was detected in 13 (68%) of women, but only 9 (45%) of girls (p < .005) and tended to be higher in the girls (%Pmax= 88.6 ± 7.0 vs. 83.0 ± 6.9%, p = .080; %PVO2pk= (101.6 ± 17.6 vs. 90.6 ± 7.8%, p = .063). When EMGTh was undetected it was assumed to occur at 100%Pmax or beyond. Consequently, EMGTh values turned significantly higher in girls than in women (94.8 ± 7.4 vs. 88.4 ± 9.9%Pmax, p = .026; and 103.2 ± 11.7 vs. 95.2 ± 9.9%PVO2pk, p = .028).
During progressive exercise, girls appear to rely less on higher-threshold/type-II MUs than do women, suggesting differential muscle activation strategy.
Raffy Dotan, Cameron Mitchell, Rotem Cohen, Panagiota Klentrou, David Gabriel and Bareket Falk
Children differ from adults in many muscular performance attributes such as size-normalized strength and power, endurance, fatigability and the recovery from exhaustive exercise, to name just a few. Metabolic attributes, such as glycolytic capacity, substrate utilization, and VO2 kinetics also differ markedly between children and adults. Various factors, such as dimensionality, intramuscular synchronization, agonist-antagonist coactivation, level of volitional activation, or muscle composition, can explain some, but not all of the observed differences. It is hypothesized that, compared with adults, children are substantially less capable of recruiting or fully employing their higher-threshold, type-II motor units. The review presents and evaluates the wealth of information and possible alternative factors in explaining the observations. Although conclusive evidence is still lacking, only this hypothesis of differential motor-unit activation in children and adults, appears capable of accounting for all observed child—adult differences, whether on its own or in conjunction with other factors.