Journal of Applied Physiology

Muscle temperature, contractile speed, and motoneuron firing rates during human voluntary contractions

B. Bigland-Ritchie, C. K. Thomas, C. L. Rice, J. V. Howarth, J. J. Woods


A study was made of motoneuron firing rates and mechanical contractile parameters during maximum voluntary contraction of human hand muscles. A comparison of muscles that had been fatigued after a 60-s maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) with muscles that were cooled by approximately 5 degrees C showed that the contractile properties, in particular the rates of contraction and relaxation, were similarly affected in both conditions. In contrast, the motoneuron firing rate was affected differently by the two treatments. In the case of the fatigued muscles the motoneuron firing rate was reduced by 36%, as was expected from previous studies, but in the case of the cooled muscles, there was no significant change in the motoneuron firing rate. We conclude that the reflex reduction in the motoneuron firing rate seen in the fatigued muscle is not triggered directly by a change in the mechanical properties of the muscle.