Relative activation of two human elbow flexors under isometric conditions: a cautionary note concerning flexor equivalence

J. D. Howard, J. D. Hoit, R. M. Enoka, Z. Hasan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


We examined the electromyographic (EMG) activity of two human elbow-flexor muscles, biceps brachii and brachioradialis, during isometric contractions. The task required subjects to match the EMG level of one of the muscles (the control muscle) to one of four target levels (5, 10, 15, or 20% of maximum) at various elbow angles. A new technique was developed for the target-matching task. The activity of the other muscle (the test muscle) was simultaneously recorded during the task. For the notion of flexor equivalence to be supported, the EMG levels for the two muscles should have covaried. This was not the case. The results revealed three features: (1) while the control-muscle EMG remained constant across joint angles, the test-muscle EMG varied with joint angle, and the trend of this variation differed among subjects; (2) in nine out of ten subjects the trend of test-muscle EMG variation with joint angle was reversed when the other muscle served as the test muscle; and (3) the testmuscle EMG associated with the four target levels was subject-, muscle-, and angle-dependent. These results caution against the generalization of the flexor equivalent concept to isometric conditions. In particular, the activity of one muscle is not a reliable indicator of the activity of other muscles subserving the same joint action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-202
Number of pages4
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1986
Externally publishedYes


  • Biceps brachii
  • Brachioradialis
  • Flexor equivalent
  • Isometric contraction
  • Muscle synergy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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