Motor unit firing rate patterns during voluntary muscle force generation: A simulation study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Objective. Muscle force is generated by a combination of motor unit (MU) recruitment and changes in the discharge rate of active MUs. There have been two basic MU recruitment and firing rate paradigms reported in the literature, which describe the control of the MUs during force generation. The first (termed the reverse 'onion skin' profile), exhibits lower firing rates for lower threshold units, with higher firing rates occurring in higher threshold units. The second (termed the 'onion skin' profile), exhibits an inverse arrangement, with lower threshold units reaching higher firing rates. Approach. Using a simulation of the MU activity in a hand muscle, this study examined the force generation capacity and the variability of the muscle force magnitude at different excitation levels of the MU pool under these two different MU control paradigms. We sought to determine which rate/recruitment scheme was more efficient for force generation, and which scheme gave rise to the lowest force variability. Main results. We found that the force output of both firing patterns leads to graded force output at low excitation levels, and that the force generation capacity of the two different paradigms diverged around 50% excitation. In the reverse 'onion skin' pattern, at 100% excitation, the force output reached up to 88% of maximum force, whereas for the 'onion skin' pattern, the force output only reached up to 54% of maximum force at 100% excitation. The force variability was lower at the low to moderate force levels under the 'onion skin' paradigm than with the reverse 'onion skin' firing patterns, but this effect was reversed at high force levels. Significance. This study captures the influence of MU recruitment and firing rate organization on muscle force properties, and our results suggest that the different firing organizations can be beneficial at different levels of voluntary muscle force generation and perhaps for different tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number026015
JournalJournal of Neural Engineering
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • discharge rate
  • motor unit
  • muscle force
  • recruitment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biomedical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Motor unit firing rate patterns during voluntary muscle force generation: A simulation study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this