Motor unit recruitment is the progressive activation of a muscle by successive recruitment of contractile units (motor units) to accomplish increasing gradations of contractile strength. A motor unit consists of one motor neuron and all of the muscle fibers it contracts. All muscles consist of a number of motor units and the fibers belonging to a motor unit are dispersed and intermingle amongst fibers of other units. The muscle fibers belonging to one motor unit can be spread throughout part, or most of the entire muscle, depending on the number of fibers and size of the muscle. When a motor neuron is activated, all of the muscle fibers innervated by the motor neuron are stimulated and contract. The activation of one motor neuron will result in a weak but distributed muscle contraction. The activation of more motor neurons will result in more muscle fibers being activated, and therefore a stronger muscle contraction. Motor unit recruitment is a measure of how many motor neurons are activated in a particular muscle, and therefore is a measure of how many muscle fibers of that muscle are activated. The higher the recruitment the stronger the muscle contraction will be. Motor units are generally recruited in order of smallest to largest (smallest motoneurons to largest motoneurons (and thus slow to fast twitch)) as contraction increases. This is known as Henneman's Size Principle.
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