The isometric force-length (F-L) and isotonic force-velocity (F-V) relationships characterize the contractile properties of skeletal muscle under controlled conditions, yet it remains unclear how these properties relate to in vivo muscle function. Here, we map the in situ F-L and F-V characteristics of guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) lateral gastrocnemius (LG) to the in vivo operating range during walking and running. We test the hypothesis that muscle fascicles operate on the F-L plateau, near the optimal length for force (L0) and near velocities that maximize power output (Vopt) during walking and running. We found that in vivo LG velocities are consistent with optimizing power during work production, and economy of force at higher loads. However, LG does not operate near L0 at higher loads. LG length was near L0 at the time of EMG onset but shortened rapidly such that force development during stance occurred on the ascending limb of the F-L curve, around 0.8L0. Shortening across L0 in late swing might optimize potential for rapid force development near the swing-stance transition, providing resistance to unexpected perturbations that require rapid force development. We also found evidence of in vivo passive force rise in late swing, without EMG activity, at lengths where in situ passive force is zero, suggesting that dynamic viscoelastic effects contribute to in vivo force development. Comparison of in vivo operating ranges to F-L and F-V properties suggests the need for new approaches to characterize muscle properties in controlled conditions that more closely resemble in vivo dynamics.

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