You are on page 1of 12


The electrical activity (i.e. motor unit recruitment) will increase within the
muscles that are contracted with each stronger contraction. The brain will
send progressively larger signals to the muscle to leave it primed and ready
to go for the next contraction.

During relaxation of the muscle, or tonus period, the muscle activity will
increase slightly. The muscle will be waiting in a relaxed but not flaccid
state, waiting for the next contraction.
Electromyography Lab: Analyzing Electrical Activity, Force and Fatigue of
Dominant and
Non-dominant Muscles

The primary function of muscle, any muscle, is to convert chemical
energy into mechanical energy, causing the muscle to shorten. Contraction
of skeletal muscle moves the muscle to cause an action, such as flexing the
forearm. Skeletal muscles are stimulated to contract by somatic motor
neurons that carry nerve impulses from the central nervous system to the
spinal cord and then the skeletal muscles. Axons leave the spinal cord via
nerves and are spread throughout muscles. When somatic neurons are
stimulated, they generate electrical signals that lead to contraction of the
stimulated muscle fibers.
Motor units are a combination of a single motor neuron and all of the
muscle fibers it controls. The size of a motor unit is determined by its
function and location. The smaller the size of a muscle’s motor unit, the
greater number of neurons needed for control of the muscle. The brain
determines the number of active motor units required for a muscle to
contract to perform a given task. When an increase in strength of a
contraction is needed, the brain increases the active motor units. If sensory
information returning to the brain from muscles indicates there is not enough
power to perform the task, the brain activates additional motor units until
the task is completed. This sequential activation of motor units is called
motor unit recruitment. Muscles, even at relaxed state, have muscle tone.
Muscle tone is a sustained partial state of contraction, maintained without
fatigue, as muscle fibers alternate contracting and resting. Muscles maintain
a level of memory as the brain’s impulses send electrical activity to the
muscle to have it primed and ready for another contraction. During the time
in between the task, when the muscle is resting but still has slight tension
and leaves the muscle ready for the next task, is called tonus. Summation
occurs once the muscle has performed a small task and removes slack,
causing the second contraction to be stronger. As the muscle fibers contract
they consume energy (ATP and oxygen) and generate force. Eventually the
muscle fibers deplete the energy, more motor units are recruited and fatigue
occurs. During fatigue, the muscle uses its energy sources faster than it can
be replaced causing the contraction force to be smaller. A muscle’s ability to
generate ATP’s and resist fatigue is dependant on type of muscle fibers. The
larger muscle fibers fatigue slower and have longer endurance using aerobic
energy. Smaller muscle fibers give quicker energy (glycolic energy) for fast
contraction and fatigue faster than larger muscle fibers. Muscle fibers
conduct electricity as they are stimulated and contract. Many fibers
conducting electricity simultaneously induce voltage differences in the
overlying skin that are large enough to be detected by surface electrodes.
The detection, amplification, and recording of changes in skin voltage,
produced by underlying skeletal muscle contraction, is called
electromyography. These measurements obtained together are called an
electromyogram or EMG. Power is defined as the amount of work done per
unit of time. Dynamometry is the measure of this power and recorded using
a dynamometer. There were two experiments with two segments in
experiment one and one segment in experiment two. Experiment two was
designed by our group to determine ability of a stronger muscle group, (i.e.
biceps brachii) to achieve a higher clench force than that of a smaller muscle
The purpose of the experiment one was to determine which of the
flexor digitorum muscles, dominant or non-dominant had more electrical
activity, (i.e. motor unit recruitment) and whether or not dominant muscles
had more force and power as expected, and if the weaker, non-dominant
muscle fatigued faster. The purpose of experiment two was to determine if
the dominant biceps brachii muscle had more clench force and power
through flexion, than the dominant flexor digitorum muscle.
Our subject, Maggie, provided our group’s answers for determining
dominant and non-dominant forearm clench force, motor unit recruitment
and fatigue as she clenched the dynamometer four different times at four
assigned increment levels. Maggie, nineteen years old at the time of the
experiment, weighed 127 pounds at 5’8”. Her high level of physical activity
of weightlifting 1-4 times weekly, volleyball 3 times weekly, tennis once
every two weeks and cardiovascular routine 1-4 times weekly, gave us
insight into what to expect for results.
The first segment in experiment one was to determine clench force in
dominant and non-dominant forearms. When she increased the intensity of
her clutch with each clench, a definite increase in EMG (mV) values were
noticed in both dominant and non-dominant forearms. The dominant
forearm EMG (mV) values rose from 1.09 mV to 7.20 mV on third clench then
dropped to 6.18 mV on last clench. The upward trend was noticed in the
non-dominant forearm where the EMG increased from 1.10 mV to 2.80 mV,
with a difference of 1.70 mV. The dominant forearm results showed greater
clench force than that of non-dominant forearm. Both forearms showed
increase in integrated EMG values. The dominant forearm EMG values
increased from .06 mV-s to .38 mV-s, with a difference of .32 mV-s. The non-
dominant forearm EMG values increased from .07 mV-s to .16 mV-s with a
difference of .09 mV-s (refer to table 1).

Table 1: EMG (mV) and Integrated EMG (mV-s) Measurements of Clench

Force of Dominant and Non-dominant forearms using electrodes to measure
four increasing clutches of increasing intensity.

Cluster # Forearm 1 Forearm 1 Forearm 2 Forearm 2

(Dominant) (Dominant)
EMG MV Integrated EMG MV Integrated
[3 p-p] EMG [3 p-p] EMG
[40 mean] [40 mean]
1 1.09 mV 0.06 mV-s 1.10 mV 0.07 mV-s
2 2.44 mV 0.13 mV-s 1.69 mV 0.10 mV-s
3 7.20 mV .026 mV-s 2.14 mV 0.13 mV-s
4 6.18 mV 0.38 mV-s 2.80 mV 0.16 mV-s
Tonus was represented by the area between clenches. Both forearms
showed fluctuating measurements of EMG mV. Dominant forearm started
at .41 mV, peaked at .43 mV and ended at .36 mV. The integrated EMG
values held steady at .04 mV-s. The non-dominant forearm measured EMG
mV began at .30 mV, peaked at .39 mV, and then plummeted to .20 mV.
The integrated EMG values fluctuated between .02 mV-s to .03 mV-s and
ended at .02 mV-s (refer to table 2).

Table 2: EMG (mV) and Integrated EMG (mV-s) Tonus state measurements
represented by the area between the four clenches (clusters).
Cluster # Forearm 1 Forearm 1 Forearm 2 Forearm 2
(Dominant) (Dominant)
EMG MV Integrated EMG MV Integrated
[3 p-p] EMG [3 p-p] EMG
[40 mean] [40 mean]
1 .41 mV .04 mV-s .30 mV .02 mV-s
2 .43 mV .04 mV-s .39 mV .03 mV-s
3 .37 mV .04 mV-s .38 mV .03 mV-s
4 .36 mV .04 mV-s .20 mV .02 mV-s
During the second phase of the experiment she clenched a
dynamometer to record motor unit recruitment of force (kg) in increments.
Each incremented clench in the dominant forearm failed to reach desired
assigned force. At assigned force of 5kg her clench force was 4.46kg and at
assigned force of 25kg her clench force ended at 4.46kg. The raw EMG
values fluctuated from 4.68 mV to 8.14 mV and ended at 5.93 mV. The
integrated EMG values in dominant forearm began at .20 mV-s, rose to .34
mV-s and ended at .19 mV-s. Non-dominant forearm rose but failed to reach
assigned forces. At assigned force 5kg, the dynamometer clench force was
8.34kg. Clench force value reached 9.46kg for its 10kg assigned force value.
Clench force failed to reach 25kg and ended at 11.49kg. Raw EMG values for
non-dominant forearm began at 3.27 mV, went back down to 2.18 mV during
second clench, and ended at 4.02 mV. Integrated EMG values began at .21
mV-s and ended at .37 mV-s with a difference of .16 mV-s (refer to table 3).

Table 3: Motor Unit Recruitment, Assigned force (kg), Dynamometer force

(kg), Raw EMG (mV) Values and Integrated EMG (mV-s) Values in Dominant
and Non-dominant forearms.
Forearm 1 (Dominant) Forearm 2
Clench Assigne Dynamo Raw Int. Dynamo Raw Int.
# d m. EMG EMG m. EMG EMG
Force Force Rang Mea Force Rang Mean
(kg) (kg) e n (kg) e (mV-s)
(mV (mV- (mV)
) s)
1 5kg 4.96k 4.68 .20 mV- 8.34kg 3.27 .21
g mV s mV mV-s
2 10kg 5.28k 3.35 .21 mV- 9.46kg 2.18 .23
g mV s mV mV-s
3 15kg 6.95k 6.11 .34 mV- 9.45kg 2.42 .21
g mV s mV mV-s
4 20kg 7.00k 8.12 .32 mV- 11.27kg 4.78 .36
g mV s mV mV-s
5 25kg 4.46k 5.93 .19 mV- 11.49kg 4.02 .37
g mV s mV mV-s
Muscle fatigue was measured with maximum clench force (kg) in both
dominant and non-dominant forearms. Dominant forearm had a maximum
clench force of 16.64 kg and fatigued at 35.93 seconds with 8.32 kg of force.
Non-dominant forearm had a maximum clench force of 18.29 kg and
fatigued at 39.67 seconds with 9.15 kg of force (refer to table 4).

Table 4: Maximum Clench force (kg) measured with dynamometer, 50% of

Maximum Clench force calculated (kg) and Time to Fatigue (sec)

Forearm 1 (Dominant) Forearm 2 (Non-

Maximu 50% of Time to Maximum 50% of Time to
m Max. Fatigue Clench Max. Fatigue
Clench Clench (second Force Clench (seconds
Force Force s) (kg) Force )
(kg) Calculate Calculate
(kg) (kg)
CH value Calculate CH 40 CH value Calculate CH 40
delta T delta T
16.64 kg 8.32 kg 35.93 secs 18.29 kg 9.15 kg 39.67 secs
The additional experiment designed by our group included using
Maggie as our test subject to compare the strength of the biceps brachii
force of clench while flexing, against the force of clench of the previous
experiment’s dominant forearm results. The biceps brachii dominant
forearm was her right arm. She used another student’s hand for resistance
when she flexed her arm, and she clenched with increasing effort four times.
The measured EMG value continued to climb and started at 3.68 mV and
ended at 9.48 mV, with a difference of 5.80 mV. The integrated EMG value
began at .37 mV-s and ended at .80 mV-s for a difference of .43 mV (refer to
table 5).

Table 5: EMG value (mV) and Integrated EMG value (mV-s) measurements of
the Clench Force in Dominant Biceps Brachii compared to the EMG value
(mV) and Integrated EMG value (mV-s) measurements of the Clench Force in
the Dominant Forearm.

Biceps Brachii (Dominant) Forearm

Cluster # EMG mV Integrated EMG mV Integrated
[3 p-p] EMG [3 p-p] EMG
(mV) [40 (mV) [40 mean]
mean] (mV-s)
1 3.68 mV .37 mV-s 1.09 mV .06 mV-s
2 7.75 mV .58 mV-s 2.44 mV .13 mV-s
3 7.78 mV .67 mV-s 7.20 mV .26 mV-s
4 9.48 mV .80 mV-s 6.18 mV .33 mV-s
Muscles in the body are stimulated to contract by somatic motor
neurons that carry impulses from the brain. When a muscle generates force
and contracts, action potentials fire motor units as they travel along axons.
These impulses are picked up by the EMG electrodes via skin.
The electrical activity in the dominant forearm proved predominantly
higher compared to non-dominant forearm. Due to Maggie’s high physical
activity, especially playing tennis and weight lifting, her dominant forearm
clench force had higher intensity than her non-dominant forearm, accounting
for the physiological difference in electrical activity between arms.
When she used the dynamometer to achieve an assigned force, she
failed to reach the desired assigned force in either dominant or non-
dominant forearms. Her non-dominant forearm was weaker and did not
reach assigned force, but consistently rose in force. Even though her
dominant forearm was stronger, her non-dominant forearm was more
consistent and precise. Her sensory impulses to her non-dominant arm
recruited motor units for a more reliable clench force. Failure in achieving
assigned clench force could be due to an error in calibration at the beginning
of the experiment. Her brain actively recruited more motor units to
complete the task in her dominant arm and may account for the fluctuating
data (refer back to table 3).
During tonus stage, her dominant forearm and her non-dominant
forearm held a steady rate of rest. Physiologically, her muscles were primed
and ready for the next clench. There was little difference in measurement of
tonus between her dominant and non-dominant forearms, but the little that
there was can be attributed to the amount of slack in the weaker, non-
dominant forearm during rest (refer back to table 2).
As the muscle fibers contract during the task phase, the energy is
consumed to generate force and pulls slack out of the relaxed muscle. The
brain determines the number of active motor units to recruit for a task, so
when muscle fatigue began, more motor units were recruited (refer back to
table 4). The mental effort to exert force did not aid in her clench force
increase. As muscle fatigued, all the energy was used up and the muscle’s
ability to generate force declined. If she had continued to clench the
dynamometer until total fatigue was reached, her muscles would have
sustained at a wavering rate until the muscle lost capability to keep up with
demands of ATP and oxygen, and fatigued completely.
The group’s additional experiment comparing dominant biceps brachii
clench force to the dominant forearm clench force proved that a stronger,
bigger muscle group had the ability to achieve a higher clench force (refer
back to table 5). Due to Maggie’s physical her biceps brachii was more
developed and stronger than her forearm. There was more electrical activity
in biceps brachii because of the size of the muscle and mechanical energy
required to complete the task of flexing against resistance.