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Lab Fun – I recruit 100% of my motor units, and rock mad excel spreadsheets!

It’s been a long month, and my overwhelmingly busy schedule won’t calm down until a week or two into December, so no new articles until then. In the mean time, I thought I’d everyone know what I’ve been up to.

I’ve been spending a lot of time at my university, working on finishing up one of the heaviest courses – ‘Kinesiology Technologies’. Essentially, it’s a course about the theory and application of commonly used lab equipment for studying human movement. EMG, VO2 testing, indirect calorimetry, force plates, kinematic analysis… all kinds of fun stuff. For example:

Me performing an ITT test on my right quadriceps. Doing mad science here.

The photo above is myself performing an ITT (interpolated twitch technique) test. This test gives an indication of how much of your muscle (i.e. motor units) you are activating during a maximum voluntary contraction (MVC).

Basically, you sit on the bench with a strap around your foot (look at the picture) which measures how much force you are producing when you try to extend your leg as hard as you can (an MVC). Also, EMG electrodes are attached to my leg to observe muscle activity.

Then, halfway through my maximum contraction, I get an intense electrical stimulation to the quadriceps to activate any remaining motor units. If I’m not voluntarily activating all of my quads motor units, then the e-stim should cause a little jump on the force reading.

But check out my graph:

The results of my ITT. 100 % awesome.

The top (blue) part is force, and middle (green) is EMG, and the bottom (pink)… ignore that. See the big spike in the EMG around the middle of the test? That’s the e-stim. Usually, after the e-stim you will see a little spike upwards in the blue line (right before the drop – I won’t explain the drop here) because it would cause me to contract my leg harder. It would look like this.

But there was no spike… which means I was already activating 100% of my motor units (hypothetically)! Which might mean that my nervous system is pretty darn good at activating what little muscle I have… but you knew that already, right? :D

Doing stuff like this in the lab is really fun, and makes all the research I read come alive. I understand what experiments are doing (and their limitations) much more clearly now.

But it’s not all fun and games… for every hour spent in the lab, there’s another three or four hours spent in front of a computer screen, looking at spreadsheets of lab data, doing analysis… here’s what my evenings look like after I get off work:

The dark side of academia... data analysis.

Nothing like learning how to build digital EMG filters in Microsoft Excel… fun!

Thankfully, this technologies course will be finished in a couple weeks… then I’ll be able to write for this website a little more regularly.

Big things planned, so stay tuned!

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    6 Responses to Lab Fun – I recruit 100% of my motor units, and rock mad excel spreadsheets!

    1. Isaac Hughes says:

      Liked for the data analysis quip. You couldn’t be more right!

    2. Patrick says:

      Nice Tony, this does sound pretty fun! At least the part where you get to be the guinea pig haha.

      What exactly will this do to us common mortals? Does it improve our comprehension of how our muscles work to take better courses of action during an injury or is this just a way to validate some of your research?

      Btw, I know it’s stupid to use lab material that way, but I would so try to do some power moves wearing that band… and look at the results haha.


      • Tony Ingram says:

        Hey Patrick!

        This was definitely fun. I like being a guinea pig. I think I should if I ever ask anyone else to do it!

        This test gives us an idea of “where” muscle fatigue is – peripheral (in the muscle) or central (nervous system activation). That’s really helpful in understanding the effects of exercise or illness. Really interesting stuff.

        And man, I’m always trying to think of a way to use the lab equipment to look at dancing! The thing is, most of the equipment attach to you through wires, so I’d get tangled up doing most movements.

        I’m still brainstorming! Might just start with freezes!



    3. Tony,

      Keep up the great work. I really like the content you are putting out. With re: to the ITT technique, have you experimented with magnetic stimulation of the femoral nerve? Crazy stuff. Im attaching a short vid of me being subjected to it on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d56vCSBpzRA). The group I used to work with out of NISMAT (Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma) are doing some great research on central and peripheral fatigue in cyclists. I help them as a subject with all of the pilot work as I enjoy lending my body to science. They actually just a published a study in Eur J Appl Phsyiol that Im attaching a link to which basically showed that men exhibits a combo of central and peripheral fatigue following a 2 hour cycling bout whereas it was central with women. Interestingly enough, just rinsing with a carbohydrate beverage seems to eliminate any central fatigue…(coming soon ) (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23090484). With re: to the ITT technique, it seems like that is effective for smaller muscles while a train of pulses would lend itself for larger muscles (belonging to that of a Bboy like yourself). We used to look extensively at central activation (ALA Jane Kent-Braun’s CAR) during my research at UD in helping determine when a patient was ready to return to sports following ACL reconstruction. Anyways, keep up the good work and reach out if you are ever in NYC.

      • Tony Ingram says:

        Hey Chris!

        We just got a TMS device in our lab, and I’m hoping to get my hands on it, as a subject as well as in my thesis. That video you posted looks crazy… was it uncomfortable? Is it difficult to acquire subjects for such a protocol?

        The findings of the study ARE interesting. I wouldn’t expect such a difference between sexes. The carb rince study sounds even more interesting… I love the area of central vs. peripheral fatigue. So interesting and has huge implications on training protocol design.

        By the way, my muscles are NOT big hahahaha. I’m probably the least muscular person in my program. But still, we’ve been discussing the limitations of the ITT protocol quite a bit, and I’ll bring up your suggestion.

        Thanks for the comment, and I will absolutely reach out to you when I visit NYC (hopefully soon).


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