Neuromuscular fatigue increases the amplitude of fluctuations in torque output during isometric contractions, but the effect of fatigue on the temporal structure, or complexity, of these fluctuations is not known. We hypothesised that fatigue would result in a loss of temporal complexity and a change in fractal scaling of the torque signal during isometric knee extensor exercise. Eleven healthy participants performed a maximal test (5 min of intermittent maximal voluntary contractions, MVCs), and a submaximal test (contractions at a target of 40% MVC performed until task failure), each with a 60% duty factor (6 s contraction, 4 s rest). Torque and surface EMG signals were sampled continuously. Complexity and fractal scaling of torque were quantified by calculating approximate entropy (ApEn), sample entropy (SampEn) and the detrended fluctuation analysis (DFA) scaling exponent α. Fresh submaximal contractions were more complex than maximal contractions (mean ± SEM, submaximal vs. maximal: ApEn 0.65 ± 0.09 vs. 0.15 ± 0.02; SampEn 0.62 ± 0.09 vs. 0.14 ± 0.02; DFA α 1.35 ± 0.04 vs. 1.55 ± 0.03; all P < 0.005). Fatigue reduced the complexity of submaximal contractions (ApEn to 0.24 ± 0.05; SampEn to 0.22 ± 0.04; DFA α to 1.55 ± 0.03; all P < 0.005) and maximal contractions (ApEn to 0.10 ± 0.02; SampEn to 0.10 ± 0.02; DFA α to 1.63 ± 0.02; all P < 0.01). This loss of complexity and shift towards Brownian-like noise suggests that as well as reducing the capacity to produce torque, fatigue reduces the neuromuscular system's adaptability to external perturbations.
© 2015 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology © 2015 The Physiological Society.