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Sex differences in the rate of fatigue development and recovery

WJ Albert1*, AT Wrigley1, RB McLean1 and GG Sleivert2

Author Affiliations

1 Human Performance Laboratory, Faculty of Kinesiolgy, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

2 PacificSport, Canadian Sport Centre, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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Dynamic Medicine 2006, 5:2  doi:10.1186/1476-5918-5-2

Published: 16 January 2006



Many musculoskeltal injuries in the workplace have been attributed to the repetitive loading of muscle and soft tissues. It is not disputed that muscular fatigue is a risk factor for musculoskeltal injury, however the disparity between gender with respect to muscular fatigability and rate of recovery is not well understood. Current health and safety guidelines do not account for sex differences in fatiguability and may be predisposing one gender to greater risk. The purpose of this study was to quantify the sex differences in fatigue development and recovery rate of lower and upper body musculature after repeated bouts of sustained isometric contractions.


Twenty-seven healthy males (n = 12) and females (n = 15) underwent bilateral localized fatigue of either the knee extensors (male: n = 8; female: n = 8), elbow flexors (male: n = 8; female: n = 10), or both muscle groups. The fatigue protocol consisted of ten 30-second sub-maximal isometric contractions. The changes in maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), electrically evoked twitches, and motor unit activation (MUA) were assessed along with the ability to control the sustained contractions (SLP) during the fatigue protocol using a mixed four-factor repeated measures ANOVA (gender × side × muscle × time) design with significance set at p < 0.05.


There was a significant loss of MVC, MUA, and evoked twitch amplitude from pre- to post-fatigue in both the arms and legs. Males had greater relative loss of isometric force, a higher rate of fatigue development, and were less capable of maintaining the fatiguing contractions in the legs when compared to the females.


The nature of the induced fatigue was a combination of central and peripheral fatigue that did not fully recover over a 45-minute period. The results appear to reflect sex differences that are peripheral, and partially support the muscle mass hypothesis for explaining differences in muscular fatigue.