Maximal strength training-induced improvements in forearm work efficiency are associated with reduced blood flow


Maximal strength training (MST) improves work efficiency. However, since blood flow is greatly dictated by muscle contractions in arms during exercise and vascular conductance is lower, it has been indicated that arms rely more upon adapting oxygen extraction than legs in response to the enhanced work efficiency. Thus, to investigate if metabolic and vascular responses are arm specific, we used Doppler-ultrasound and a catheter placed in the subclavian vein to measure blood flow and the arteriovenous oxygen difference during steady-state work in seven young men [24 ± 3 (SD) yr] following 6 wk of handgrip MST. As expected, MST improved maximal strength (49 ± 9 to 62 ± 10 kg) and the rate of force development (923 ± 224 to 1,086 ± 238 N/s), resulting in a reduced submaximal oxygen uptake (30 ± 9 to 24 ± 10 ml/min) and concomitantly increased work efficiency (9.3 ± 2.5 to 12.4 ± 3.9%) (all P < 0.05). In turn, the work efficiency improvement was associated with reduced blood flow (486 ± 102 to 395 ± 114 ml/min), mediated by a lower blood velocity (43 ± 8 to 32 ± 6 cm/s) (all P < 0.05). Conduit artery diameter and the arteriovenous oxygen difference remained unaltered. The maximal work test revealed an increased time to exhaustion (949 ± 239 to 1,102 ± 292 s) and maximal work rate (both P < 0.05) but no change in peak oxygen uptake. In conclusion, despite prior indications of metabolic and vascular limb-specific differences, these results reveal that improved work efficiency after small muscle mass strength training in the upper extremities is accompanied by a blood flow reduction and coheres with what has been documented for lower extremities. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Maximal strength training increases skeletal muscle work efficiency. Oxygen extraction has been indicated to be the adapting component with this increased work efficiency in arms. However, we document that decreased blood flow, achieved by blood velocity reduction, is the adapting mechanism responding to the improved aerobic metabolism in the forearm musculature.

American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology