Repetitive, monotonic, and effortful voluntary muscle contractions performed for just a few weeks, i.e., resistance training, can substantially increase maximal voluntary force in the practiced task and can also increase gross motor performance. The increase in motor performance is often accompanied by neuroplastic adaptations in the central nervous system. While historical data assigned functional relevance to such adaptations induced by resistance training, this claim has not yet been systematically and critically examined in the context of motor performance across the lifespan in health and disease. A review of muscle activation, brain and peripheral nerve stimulation, and imaging data revealed that increases in motor performance and neuroplasticity tend to be uncoupled, making a mechanistic link between neuroplasticity and motor performance inconclusive. We recommend new approaches, including causal mediation analytical and hypothesis-driven models to substantiate the functional relevance of resistance training-induced neuroplasticity in the improvements of gross motor function across the lifespan in health and disease.
Keywords: Aging; Athletic performance; Causal mediation analysis; Directed acyclic graphs; Electroencephalography (EEG); Electromyography (EMG); Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); Maximal voluntary contraction (MVC); Multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; Strength training; Stroke; Transcranial magnetic brain stimulation (TMS).
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