Neural adaptations to electrical stimulation strength training

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 Oct;111(10):2439-49. doi: 10.1007/s00421-011-2012-2. Epub 2011 Jun 4.


This review provides evidence for the hypothesis that electrostimulation strength training (EST) increases the force of a maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) through neural adaptations in healthy skeletal muscle. Although electrical stimulation and voluntary effort activate muscle differently, there is substantial evidence to suggest that EST modifies the excitability of specific neural paths and such adaptations contribute to the increases in MVC force. Similar to strength training with voluntary contractions, EST increases MVC force after only a few sessions with some changes in muscle biochemistry but without overt muscle hypertrophy. There is some mixed evidence for spinal neural adaptations in the form of an increase in the amplitude of the interpolated twitch and in the amplitude of the volitional wave, with less evidence for changes in spinal excitability. Cross-sectional and exercise studies also suggest that the barrage of sensory and nociceptive inputs acts at the cortical level and can modify the motor cortical output and interhemispheric paths. The data suggest that neural adaptations mediate initial increases in MVC force after short-term EST.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Resistance Training / methods*