Rates of performance loss and neuromuscular activity in men and women during cycling: Evidence for a common metabolic basis of muscle fatigue

Christopher W. Sundberg, Sandra K. Hunter, Matthew W. Bundle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The durations that muscular force and power outputs can be sustained until failure fall predictably on an exponential decline between an individual's 3-s burst maximum to the maximum performance they can sustain aerobically. The exponential time constants describing these rates of performance loss are similar across individuals, suggesting that a common metabolically based mechanism governs muscle fatigue; however, these conclusions come from studies mainly on men. To test whether the same physiological understanding can be applied to women, we compared the performance-duration relationships and neuromuscular activity between seven men [23.3 ± 1.9 (SD) yr] and seven women (21.7 ± 1.8 yr) from multiple exhaustive bouts of cycle ergometry. Each subject performed trials to obtain the peak 3-s power output (Pmax), the mechanical power at the aerobic maximum (Paer), and 11-14 constant-load bouts eliciting failure between 3 and 300 s. Collectively, men and women performed 180 exhaustive bouts spanning an ~6-fold range of power outputs (118-1116 W) and an ~35-fold range of trial durations (8-283 s). Men generated 66% greater Pmax (956 ± 109 W vs. 632 ± 74 W) and 68% greater Paer (310 ± 47 W vs. 212 ± 15 W) than women. However, the metabolically based time constants describing the time course of performance loss were similar between men (0.020 ± 0.003/s) and women (0.021 ± 0.003/s). Additionally, the fatigue-induced increases in neuromuscular activity did not differ between the sexes when compared relative to the pedal forces at Paer. These data suggest that muscle fatigue during short-duration dynamic exercise has a common metabolically based mechanism determined by the extent that ATP is resynthesized by anaerobic metabolism. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Although men and women differed considerably in their absolute cycling performances, there was no sex difference in the metabolically based exponential time constant that described the performance-duration relationship. Similarly, the fatigue- induced increases in neuromuscular activity were not different between the sexes when compared from a metabolic perspective. These data suggest that men and women have similar rate-limiting mechanisms for short-duration dynamic exercise that are determined by the extent the exercise is supported by anaerobic metabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-141
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2017


  • Critical power
  • Metabolism
  • Performance-duration relationship
  • Sex differences
  • Skeletal muscle


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