Practical Applications and Future Directions of Electromyography use in Tactical Populations

by Katherine Balfany, CSCS and Robert Lockie, PhD, TSAC-F
TSAC Report November 2020
Vol 58, Issue 3


This article reviews electromyography (EMG) procedures as well as provides examples of how EMG data analysis has been used in tactical populations.


Tactical personnel perform unique movements while on the job. To initiate movement in the body, the brain sends an electrical signal to the spinal cord (via neurons), which discharges an action potential and creates a muscle contraction. When the contraction of the muscles is sufficient, they pull on the bony landmarks to which they are attached (typically via tendons), and movement is generated. When an individual wants to produce more force (e.g., when lifting a heavier load), motor neurons discharge action potentials more rapidly or activate additional motor units (24). The size principle is in effect where the smallest motor units are recruited first, eventually leading to the recruitment of the largest motor units (24). This recruitment pattern should lead to greater muscular force production (15). The summed action potentials result in muscle activation that can be measured via electromyography (EMG).

This article originally appeared in TSAC Report, the NSCA’s quarterly, online-only publication geared toward the training of tactical athletes, operators, and facilitators. It provides research-based articles, performance drills, and conditioning techniques for operational, tactical athletes. The TSAC Report is only available for NSCA Members. Read more articles from TSAC Report 

Related Reading



1. Anderson, GS, Plecas, D, and Segger, T. Police officer physical ability testing – Re-validating a selection criterion. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management 24(1): 8-31, 2001.

2. Andrish, JT, Bergfeld, JA, and Walheim, J. A prospective study on the management of shin splints. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery American Volume 56(8): 1697-1700, 1974.

3. Balfany, K, Feeney, DF, and Lynn, SK. Muscle activation patterns change during repeated runs to exhaustion measured with sports performance wearables. From 2018 NSCA National Conference: Indianapolis, IN; 2018.

4. Balfany, K, Chan, M-SM, Lockie, RG, and Lynn, SK. Muscle activation as an indicator of training load during fatiguing exercise measured by sports performance wearables. From 2019 NSCA National Conference: Washington, D.C.; 2019.

5. Baran, K, Dulla, J, Orr, R, Dawes, J, and Pope, R. Duty loads carried by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies. Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning 26(5): 34-38, 2018.

6. Born, D-P, Sperlich, B, and Holmberg, H-C. Bringing light into the dark: Effects of compression clothing on performance and recovery. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 8(1): 4-18, 2013.

7. Brown, JJ, Wells, GA, Trottier, AJ, Bonneau, J, and Ferris, B. Back pain in a large Canadian police force. Spine 23(7): 821-827, 1998.

8. Carlton, SD, and Orr, RM. The impact of occupational load carriage on carrier mobility: A critical review of the literature. International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics 20(1): 33-41, 2014.

9. Chan, M. Athos vs. accelerometer based tracking. 2017. Retrieved July 29, 2019 from studies/Athos-Training-Load-Reflects-Athlete-Physical-Stress- Better-than-Accelerometer-Based-Tracking-System.

10. De Luca, CJ. The use of surface electromyography in biomechanics. Journal of Applied Biomechanics 13(2): 135-163, 1997.

11. dos Santos, MC, Krueger, E, and Neves, EB. Electromyographic analysis of postural overload caused by bulletproof vests on public security professionals. Research on Biomedical Engineering 33(3): 175-184, 2017.

12. Fabrizio, AJ. Work-related upper extremity injuries: prevalence, cost and risk factors in military and civilian populations. Work 18(2): 115-121, 2002.

13. Hermens, HJ, Freriks, B, Disselhorst-Klug, C, and Rau, G. Development of recommendations for SEMG sensors and sensor placement procedures. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology 10(5): 361-374, 2000.

14. Joseph, A, Wiley, A, Orr, R, Schram, B, and Dawes, JJ. The impact of load carriage on measures of power and agility in tactical occupations: A critical review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15(1): 2018.

15. Kamen, G. Electromyographic kinesiology. In: Research Methods in Biomechanics, Robertson, DGE, Caldwell, GE, Hammill, J, Kamen, G, and Whittlesey, SN (eds.). Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL; 179-201, 2014.

16. Knapik, J, Darakjy, SG, Hauret, K, Canada, S, Marin, R, Scott, S, et al. Effect of pre-conditioning on attrition, fitness, and injuries in army basic combat training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 36(5): S308, 2004.

17. Knapik, JJ, Sharp, MA, Canham-Chervak, M, Hauret, K, Patton, JF, and Jones, BH. Risk factors for training-related injuries among men and women in basic combat training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 33(6): 946-954, 2001.

18. Lane, CL, Hardwick, D, Janus, TP, Chen, H, Lu, Y, and Mayer, JM. Comparison of the firefighter candidate physical ability test to weight lifting exercises using electromyography. Work 62(3): 459-467, 2019.

19. Larsen, LB, Andersson, EE, Tranberg, R, and Ramstrand, N. Multi-site musculoskeletal pain in Swedish police: Associations with discomfort from wearing mandatory equipment and prolonged sitting. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health 91(4): 425-433, 2018.

20. McKinnon, CD, Callaghan, JP, and Dickerson, CR. Evaluation of the influence of mobile data terminal location on physical exposures during simulated police patrol activities. Applied Ergonomics 43(5): 859-867, 2012.

21. McKinnon, CD, Amy, SA, Callaghan, JP, and Dickerson, CR. The effect of police cruiser restraint cage configuration on shoulder discomfort, muscular demands, upper limb postures, and task performance during simulated police patrol. Applied Ergonomics 45(6): 1414-1421, 2014.

22. Molloy, JM, Feltwell, DN, Scott, SJ, and Niebuhr, DW. Physical training injuries and interventions for military recruits. Military Medicine 177(5): 553-558, 2012.

23. Phillips, SM, Cadmus-Bertram, L, Rosenberg, D, Buman, MP, and Lynch, BM. Wearable technology and physical activity in chronic disease: Opportunities and challenges. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 54(1): 144-150, 2018.

24. Powers, SK, and Howley, ET. Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education; 2015.

25. Preston, DC, and Shapiro, BE. Needle electromyography: Fundamentals, normal and abnormal patterns. Neurologic Clinics 20(2): 361-396, 2002.

26. Ribeiro Ade, C, Grossi, DB, Foerster, B, Candolo, C, and Monteiro-Pedro, V. Electromyographic and magnetic resonance imaging evaluations of individuals with patellofemoral pain syndrome. Revista Brasileira de Fisioterapia 14(3): 221-228, 2010.

27. Rice, H, Fallowfield, J, Allsopp, A, and Dixon, S. Influence of a 12.8-km military load carriage activity on lower limb gait mechanics and muscle activity. Ergonomics 60(5): 649-656, 2017.

28. Schulze, C, Lindner, T, Schulz, K, Finze, S, Kundt, G, Mittelmeier, W, and Bader, R. The influence in Airforce soldiers through wearing certain types of Army-issue footwear on muscle activity in the lower extremities. Open Orthopaedics Journal 5: 302-306, 2011.

29. Sheaff, AK, Bennett, A, Hanson, ED, Kim, YS, Hsu, J, Shim, JK, et al. Physiological determinants of the candidate physical ability test in firefighters. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(11): 3112-3122, 2010.

30. Son, S-Y, Xia, Y, and Tochihara, Y. Evaluation of the effects of various clothing conditions on firefighter mobility and the validity of those measurements made. Journal of the Human-Environment System 13(1): 15-24, 2010.

31. Szasz, A, Zimmerman, A, Frey, E, Brady, D, and Spalletta, R. An electromyographical evaluation of the validity of the 2-minute sit-up section of the Army Physical Fitness Test in measuring abdominal strength and endurance. Military Medicine 167(11): 950-953, 2002.

32. United States Army Center for Initial Military Training. Army Combat Fitness Test. 2018. Retrieved February 13, 2019 from https://

33. Whittaker, RG. The fundamentals of electromyography. Practical Neurology 12(3): 187-194, 2012.

34. Yang, L, Kang, b, Wang, T, and Zhao, T. An ergonomic study of firefighters’ postural comfort evaluation based on EMG method. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting 58(1): 2310-2314, 2014.

About the author

Katherine Balfany, CSCS

Contact Katherine Balfany

Contact Katherine Balfany

Your first name is required.
Your last name is required.
Your email is required.
Your message is required.
Your reCaptcha is required.

Your email was successfully sent to Katherine Balfany

Katherine Balfany is currently pursuing a Master of Science degreein Kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton. Shereceived her Bachelor ...

View full biography
About the author

Robert G. Lockie, PhD, TSAC-F

Contact Robert Lockie

Contact Robert Lockie

Your first name is required.
Your last name is required.
Your email is required.
Your message is required.
Your reCaptcha is required.

Your email was successfully sent to Robert Lockie

Robert Lockie is an Associate Professor of strength andconditioning at California State University, Fullerton. He obtainedhis undergraduate and honors ...

View full biography
#NSCAStrong #NSCAStrong

has been added to your shopping cart!

Continue Shopping Checkout Now