Motor unit firing rate during static contraction indicated by the surface EMG power spectrum

Anton Van Boxtel, Lambert R.B. Schomaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


In this study, power spectral density functions (PSDF's) were computed of interference EMG of various facial and jaw-elevator muscles during nonfatiguing submaximal static contractions, recorded with surface electrodes. A distinct peak was found in the PSDF's in the frequency region below 40 Hz. It was shown that the peak was due to genuine EMG activity and that it could not be considered as an artifact, which was caused by electrode displacements during contraction. An increase of contraction strength resulted in a shift of the peak to higher frequencies and a decrease of peak amplitude relative to the power spectral estimates above 40 Hz, which were shown to be determined by the shape of the motor unit (MU) action potentials. In accordance with mathematical models of the EMG PSDF, it was demonstrated that the peak indicates the dominant firing rate of the sampled MU's. Our results suggest that this can be defined as the firing rate of the first recruited low-threshold MU's, which may be expected to dominate the interference EMG signal because of their preponderance in number. The data further suggest that the peak can be more readily observed in PSDF's of facial and jaw-elevator muscles than in PSDF's of limb muscles. This might be related to differences in MU firing statistics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601-609
JournalIEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1983


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