Contractile muscle volume and agonist-antagonist coactivation account for differences in torque between young and older women

A. Macaluso, M.A. Nimmo, J.E. Foster, M. Cockburn, N.C. McMillan, G. De Vito

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It is controversial whether specific tension (the ratio between muscle strength and size) declines with aging. Therefore, contractile muscle volume was estimated separately from the intramuscular noncontractile tissue by magnetic resonance imaging, and maximum isometric torque was measured in the knee extensors and flexors of 10 young (22.8 +/- 5.7 years) and 10 older (69.5 +/- 2.4 years) healthy active women. Specific tension was lower in the older women both in the extensors (93.1 +/- 20.1 kN.m(-2) vs. 112.1 +/- 12.3 kN.m(-2); P < 0.05) and in the flexors (100 &PLUSMN; 31 kN.m(-2) vs. 142.7 &PLUSMN; 23.9 kN.m(-2); P < 0.01). This was accompanied by an increase in the percentage coactivation of the knee flexors during knee extension. These data suggest that the lower level of muscle torque in the older women can be explained not only by smaller contractile muscle mass but also by increased coactivation of the antagonist muscles during knee extension.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)858-863
Number of pages5
JournalMuscle and Nerve
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2002


  • aging muscle
  • coactivation
  • muscle imaging
  • muscle volume
  • specific tension

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