Muscle fatigue during high-intensity exercise in children

Sports Med. 2006;36(12):1031-65. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200636120-00004.


Children are able to resist fatigue better than adults during one or several repeated high-intensity exercise bouts. This finding has been reported by measuring mechanical force or power output profiles during sustained isometric maximal contractions or repeated bouts of high-intensity dynamic exercises. The ability of children to better maintain performance during repeated high-intensity exercise bouts could be related to their lower level of fatigue during exercise and/or faster recovery following exercise. This may be explained by muscle characteristics of children, which are quantitatively and qualitatively different to those of adults. Children have less muscle mass than adults and hence, generate lower absolute power during high-intensity exercise. Some researchers also showed that children were equipped better for oxidative than glycolytic pathways during exercise, which would lead to a lower accumulation of muscle by-products. Furthermore, some reports indicated that the lower ability of children to activate their type II muscle fibres would also explain their greater resistance to fatigue during sustained maximal contractions. The lower accumulation of muscle by-products observed in children may be suggestive of a reduced metabolic signal, which induces lower ratings of perceived exertion. Factors such as faster phosphocreatine resynthesis, greater oxidative capacity, better acid-base regulation, faster readjustment of initial cardiorespiratory parameters and higher removal of metabolic by-products in children could also explain their faster recovery following high-intensity exercise.From a clinical point of view, muscle fatigue profiles are different between healthy children and children with muscle and metabolic diseases. Studies of dystrophic muscles in children indicated contradictory findings of changes in contractile properties and the muscle fatigability. Some have found that the muscle of boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) fatigued less than that of healthy boys, but others have reported that the fatigue in DMD and in normal muscle was the same. Children with glycogenosis type V and VII and dermatomyositis, and obese children tolerate exercise weakly and show an early fatigue. Studies that have investigated the fatigability in children with cerebral palsy have indicated that the femoris quadriceps was less fatigable than that of a control group but the fatigability of the triceps surae was the same between the two groups. Further studies are required to elucidate the mechanisms explaining the origins of muscle fatigue in healthy and diseased children. The use of non-invasive measurement tools such as magnetic resonance imaging and magnetic resonance spectroscopy in paediatric exercise science will give researchers more insight in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Cerebral Palsy / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Glycogen Storage Disease / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology*
  • Muscles / metabolism*
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Muscular Dystrophies / physiopathology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*