Review of research into muscle power and fatigue


Anthony Sargeant and David A Jones wrote this invited review for an important book on muscle fatigue edited by Simon Gandevia and others

The significance of motor unit variability in sustaining mechanical output of muscle

Anthony J Sargeant and David A Jones

Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology
Adv Exp Med Biol. 1995;384:323-38
Neuromuscular function and fatigue have been studied using a wide variety of preparations. These range from sections of single fibers from which the cell membrane has been removed to whole muscles or groups of muscles acting about a joint in the intact animal. Each type of preparation has its merits and limitations. There is no ideal preparation; rather the question to be answered will determine the most appropriate model in each case and sometimes a combination of approaches will be needed. In particular, it is important to understand how the mechanical output of whole muscle can be sustained to meet the demands of a task and to take into account the organized variability of the constituent motor units.

Human performance and energy cost of lifting and lowering weight


Research carried out by Michiel de Looze and submitted as part of his PhD thesis completed in Amsterdam under the direction of Anthony Sargeant

Relationships between energy expenditure and positive and negative mechanical work in repetitive lifting and lowering

De Looze MP

Toussaint HM

Commissaris DA

Jans MP

Anthony J Sargeant.

Journal of Applied Physiology
J Appl Physiol  1994
  • Determining the separate energy costs of the positive and negative mechanical work in repetitive lifting or lowering is quite complex, as a mixture of both work components will always be involved in the up- and downward motion of the lifter’s body mass. In the current study, a new method was tested in which coefficients specifically related to the positive and negative work were estimated by multiple regression on a data set of weight-lifting and weight-lowering tasks. The energy cost was obtained from oxygen uptake measurements. The slopes of the regression lines for energy cost and mechanical work were steeper for positive than for negative work. The cost related to the negative work was approximately 0.3-0.5 times the cost of the positive work. This finding is well in line with data obtained directly from other isolated activities of either positive or negative work (e.g., ladder climbing vs. descending). However, the intercept values of the regression lines were not significantly different from zero or were even negative. This was most likely due to the metabolic energy not related to processes that yield mechanical work (e.g., isometric muscle actions) that was not constant among trials.

Anthony Sargeant reviews the effect of fatigue and temperature on human muscle power

In this review based on a Key Note Lecture to a Dutch Physiological Society Symposium Tony Sargeant explains how human muscle power is affected by changes in muscle temperature and by fatigue. Importantly that the magnitude of changes depends on the speed of the muscle contraction generating power and the muscle fibre types present in the muscles.
International Journal of Sports Medicine
Int J Sports Med. 1994 Apr;15(3):116-121

In human locomotion the ability to generate and sustain power output is of fundamental importance. This review examines the implications for power output of having variability in the metabolic and contractile properties within the population of muscle fibres which comprise the major locomotory muscles. Reference is made to studies using an isokinetic cycle ergometer by which the global power/velocity relationship for the leg extensor muscles can be determined.

The data from these studies are examined in the light of the force velocity characteristics of human type I and type II muscle fibres. The ‘plasticity’ of fibre properties is discussed with reference to the ‘acute’ changes elicited by exercise induced fatigue and changes in muscle temperature and ‘chronic’ changes occurring following intensive training and ageing

Optimum wheelchair propulsion techniques

One of another in the series of practical human physiology studies that Anthony Sargeant supervised as Professor in the Academic Medical Centre of Amsterdam. In this case the data was collected by Luc van der Wooude (now Professor), a dedicated PhD student, under his supervision.
European Journal of Applied Physiology
Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1989;58(6):625-32

To study the effect of different cycle frequencies on cardio-respiratory responses and propulsion technique in hand-rim wheelchair propulsion, experienced wheelchair sportsmen (WS group; n = 6) and non-wheelchair users (NW group; n = 6) performed wheelchair exercise tests on a motor-driven treadmill. The WS group wheeled at velocities of 0.55, 0.83, 1.11 and 1.39 m.s-1 and a slope of 2 degrees. The NW group wheeled at 0.83, 1.11 and 1.39 m.s-1 and a 1 degree slope. In each test, a 3-min period at a freely chosen cycle frequency (FCF: 100%) was followed by four 3-min blocks of paced cycle frequencies at 60%, 80%, 120% and 140% FCF. Effects of both cycle frequency and velocity on physiological and propulsion technique parameters were studied. Analysis of variance showed a significant effect (p less than 0.05) of cycle frequency on oxygen cost and gross mechanical efficiency in both the WS and NW group. This indicated the existence of an optimum cycle frequency which is close to the FCF at any given velocity. The optimum cycle frequency increased with velocity from 0.67 to 1.03 cps over the range studied (p less than 0.05). Oxygen cost was approximately 10% less at 100% FCF than at 60% or 140% FCF. Gross mechanical efficiency for the WS group at 100% FCF was 8.5%, 9.7%, 10.4% and 10.1%, respectively, at the four velocities.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Carnitine supplementation had little effect on human exercise performance

In this research study Carolyn A Greig, the talented PhD student of Professor Anthony J Sargeant, carried out a study at the  Rayne Research Institute of University College Hospital which failed to demonstrate any significant effect of carnitine on exercise performance.
European Journal of Applied Physiology
Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1987;56(4):457-60

Two trials were conducted to investigate the effects of L-carnitine supplementation upon maximum and submaximum exercise capacity. Two groups of healthy, untrained subjects were studied in double-blind cross-over trails. Oral supplementation of 2 g per day L-carnitine was used for 2 weeks in the first trial and the same dose but for 4 weeks in the second trial.

Maximum and submaximum exercise capacity were assessed during a continuous progressive cycle ergometer exercise test performed at 70 rpm. In trial 1, plasma concentrations of lactate and beta-hydroxybutyrate were measured pre- and post-exercise. In trial 2, pre- and post-exercise plasma lactate were measured. The results of treatment with L-carnitine demonstrated no significant changes in maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) or in maximum heart rate. In trial 1, there was a small improvement in submaximal performance as evidenced by a decrease in the heart-rate response to a work-load requiring 50% of VO2max. The more extensive trial 2 did not reproduce the significant result obtained in trial 1, that is, there was no significant decrease in heart rate at any given submaximal exercise intensity, under carnitine-supplemented conditions. Plasma metabolic concentrations were unchanged following L-carnitine, in both trials. It is concluded, that in contrast to other reports, carnitine supplementation may be of little benefit to exercise performance since the observed effects were small and inconsistent

Efficiency of Human Muscle at different contraction frequencies

This research was a collaboration between Manchester and Copenhagen. Richard Ferguson was the talented young PhD student of Professor Anthony J Sargeant who collected data in Copenhagen for this publication under the supervision of Jens Bangsbo.
Journal of Applied Physiology
J Appl Physiol. 2000 Nov;89(5):1912-8

Abstract A novel approach has been developed for the quantification of total mechanical power output produced by an isolated, well-defined muscle group during dynamic exercise in humans at different contraction frequencies. The calculation of total power output comprises the external power delivered to the ergometer (i.e., the external power output setting of the ergometer) and the “internal” power generated to overcome inertial and gravitational forces related to movement of the lower limb. Total power output was determined at contraction frequencies of 60 and 100 rpm. At 60 rpm, the internal power was 18+/- 1 W (range: 16-19 W) at external power outputs that ranged between 0 and 50 W. This was less (P<0.05) than the internal power of 33+/-2 W (27-38 W) at 100 rpm at 0-50 W. Moreover, at 100 rpm, internal power was lower (P<0.05) at the higher external power outputs. Pulmonary oxygen uptake was observed to be greater (P<0.05) at 100 than at 60 rpm at comparable total power outputs, suggesting that mechanical efficiency is lower at 100 rpm. Thus a method was developed that allowed accurate determination of the total power output during exercise generated by an isolated muscle group at different contraction frequencies

Strength training for athletes and in rehabilitation is very specific

Professors Anthony J Sargeant and David A Jones were the PhD supervisors respectively for Carolyn A Greig and Olga M Rutherford who both held PhD studentships awarded by the UK Sports Council.
Journal of Sports Sciences
J Sports Sci. 1986 Autumn;4(2):101-7
Olga M Rutherford, Carolyn A Greig, Anthony J Sargeant, David A Jones.


The effects of strength training of the quadriceps on peak power output during isokinetic cycling has been investigated in group of 17 young healthy volunteers. Subjects trained by lifting near-maximal loads on a leg extension machine for 12 weeks. Measurements of maximal voluntary isometric force were made at 2-3 week intervals and a continual record was kept of the weights lifted in training.

Peak power output was measured at 110 rev min-1 and at either 70 or 80 rev min-1 before and after the 12 week training period. Measurements of maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) were made on 12 subjects before and after training. The greatest change was in the weights lifted in training which increased by 160-200%. This was accompanied by a much smaller increase in maximum isometric force (3-20%). There was no significant change in peak power output at either speed. The VO2max remained unchanged with training. The role of task specificity in training is discussed in relation to training regimes for power athletes and for rehabilitation of patients with muscle weakness.