The mechanical properties of soleus and extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscles from the mouse were studied using the work loop technique. Under optimum conditions, the EDL produced a maximum mean power output of 107 W kg-1 at a cycle frequency of 10 Hz. In comparison, the maximum mean power output of the soleus was 34 W kg-1 at 5 Hz cycle frequency. Video analysis of mice determined the stride frequency range to be from 2.87 Hz at a walk to 8.23 Hz at a flat-out gallop, with the trot-to-gallop transition occurring at 5.89 Hz. In vivo EDL electromyogram (EMG) activity is recorded primarily during shortening and the muscle operates in a power-generating mode. The soleus is close to isometric when EMG activity is recorded, but mechanical activity persists into the shortening phase. Both muscles are likely to operate over cycle frequency ranges just below, or at, those yielding maximal power. Soleus and EDL produced maximal power output in vitro when operating at mean sarcomere lengths of 2.58 microns and 2.71 microns respectively. These lengths are slightly above the plateau of the length-force curve predicted for rat leg muscle (2.3-2.5 microns). The sarcomere length ranges used in vivo by the soleus and EDL were determined, by fixing muscles in the extreme active positions predicted from video and cine analysis, to be 2.28-2.57 microns and 2.49-2.88 microns respectively. These ranges are both close to those shown to yield maximum power output in vitro and to the plateau of the sarcomere length-force curve.

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