Sympathetic activation is associated with increases in EMG during fatiguing exercise.
The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that efferent sympathetic neural discharge is coupled with the development of muscle fatigue during voluntary exercise in humans. In 12 healthy subjects (aged 20-34 yr) we measured heart rate (HR), arterial blood pressure (AP), and noncontracting, skeletal muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) in the leg (peroneal nerve) before (control) and during each of three trials of submaximal (30% of maximum) isometric handgrip exercise performed to exhaustion. In six of the subjects of eletromyographic (EMG) activity of the exercising forearm was also measured. HR and AP increased significantly (P less than 0.05) in the 1st min of exercise in all trials. In contrast, neither MSNA nor EMG activity increased significantly above control during the 1st min of exercise, but both parameters subsequently increased in a progressive and parallel manner (P less than 0.05). The overall correlation coefficient between MSNA and EMG activity (144 observations) was 0.85 (P less than 0.001). With successive trials the magnitudes of the increases in HR, AP, MSNA, and EMG activity were greater at any absolute point in time during exercise. These results indicate that sympathetic activation to noncontracting skeletal muscle is directly related to the development of muscle fatigue (as assessed by the change in EMG) during prolonged isometric exercise in humans. Furthermore, our findings demonstrate that previous fatiguing contractions alter the time course of the sympathetic neural adjustments to exercise.