Strength-trained adults demonstrate greater corticoreticular activation versus untrained controls

Yonas Akalu, Jamie Tallent, Ashlyn Frazer, Ummatul Siddique, Mohamad Rostami, Patrick Vallance, Glyn Howatson, Simon Walker, Dawson J. Kidgell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The rapid increase in strength following strength-training involves neural adaptations, however, their specific localisation remains elusive. Prior focus on corticospinal responses prompts this study to explore the understudied cortical/subcortical adaptations, particularly cortico-reticulospinal tract responses, comparing healthy strength-trained adults to untrained peers. Fifteen chronically strength-trained individuals (≥2 years of training, mean age: 24 ± 7 years) were compared with 11 age-matched untrained participants (mean age: 26 ± 8 years). Assessments included maximal voluntary force (MVF), corticospinal excitability using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), spinal excitability (cervicomedullary stimulation), voluntary activation (VA) and reticulospinal tract (RST) excitability, utilizing StartReact responses and ipsilateral motor-evoked potentials (iMEPs) for the flexor carpi radialis muscle. Trained participants had higher normalized MVF (6.4 ± 1.1 N/kg) than the untrained participants (4.8 ± 1.3 N/kg) (p = .003). Intracortical facilitation was higher in the strength-trained group (156 ± 49%) (p = .02), along with greater VA (98 ± 3.2%) (p = .002). The strength-trained group displayed reduced short-interval-intracortical inhibition (88 ± 8.0%) compared with the untrained group (69 ± 17.5%) (p < .001). Strength-trained individuals exhibited a greater normalized rate of force development (38.8 ± 10.1 N·s−1/kg) (p < .009), greater reticulospinal gain (2.5 ± 1.4) (p = .02) and higher ipsilateral-to-contralateral MEP ratios compared with the untrained group (p = .03). Strength-trained individuals displayed greater excitability within the intrinsic connections of the primary motor cortex and the RST. These results suggest greater synaptic input from the descending cortico-reticulospinal tract to α-motoneurons in strength-trained individuals, thereby contributing to the observed increase in VA and MVF.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Early online date28 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Feb 2024

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