The purpose of this study was to determine whether neural and/or muscular factors contributed to the inferior strength-related motor performances of obese adolescents. Subjects were 10 non-obese (14.6% fat) and 11 obese (32.3% fat) males matched for age (15-18 years), level of maturity (Tanner stages IV and V), lean body mass, and height. Peak torque (PT) was measured during maximal voluntary isometric (IS) and isokinetic (IK) knee extension (KE). Peak twitch torque (TT), time to peak torque (TPT), and half-relaxation time (HRT) of the knee extensors were elicited by percutaneous electrical stimulation. The interpolated twitch technique was used to determine the extent of motor unit activation (% MUA) during maximal voluntary IS KE. Knee extensor cross-sectional area (CSA) was determined by computed axial tomography taken at the mid-thigh. All strength and area measurements were made on the right side of the body. Obese subjects had significantly (P less than 0.05) lower maximal voluntary IS and IK KE strength normalized for body weight, and significantly lower % MUA during IS KE. There were no significant differences (P greater than 0.05) between groups for absolute or normalized (for the product of muscle CSA and height) ISPT, IKPT, and TT, knee extensor CSA, or TPT and HRT. These results suggest that reduced MUA and a lower strength per mass ratio (due to excess fat) are probably important contributing factors to the poorer motor performances of the obese, especially for complex motor tasks involving large muscle groups and the support or moving of body weight.