Purpose: Electromechanical delay (EMD) and rate of force development (RFD) are determinants of explosive neuromuscular performance. We may expect a contrast in EMD and RFD between explosive power athletes, who have a demonstrable ability for explosive contractions, and untrained individuals. However, comparison and the neuromuscular mechanisms for any differences have not been studied.
Methods: The neuromuscular performance of explosive power athletes (n = 9) and untrained controls (n = 10) was assessed during a series of twitch, tetanic, explosive, and maximum voluntary isometric knee extensions. Knee extension force and EMG of the superficial quadriceps were measured in three 50-ms time windows from their onset and were normalized to strength and maximal M-wave (Mmax), respectively. Involuntary and voluntary EMD were determined from twitch and explosive voluntary contractions, respectively, and were similar for both groups.
Results: The athletes were 28% stronger, and their absolute RFD in the first 50 ms was twofold that of controls. Athletes had greater normalized RFD (4.86 ± 1.46 vs 2.81 ± 1.20 MVC·s(-1)) and neural activation (mean quadriceps, 0.26 ± 0.07 vs 0.15 ± 0.06 Mmax) during the first 50 ms of explosive voluntary contractions. Surprisingly, the controls had a greater normalized RFD in the second 50 ms (6.68 ± 0.92 vs 7.93 ± 1.11 MVC·s-1) and a greater change in EMG preceding this period. However, there were no differences in the twitch response or normalized tetanic RFD between groups.
Conclusions: The differences in voluntary normalized RFD between athletes and controls were explained by agonist muscle neural activation and not by the similar intrinsic contractile properties of the groups.