Electrical activity, forces, power and work of the soleus (SO), the gastrocnemius (GA) and the plantaris (PL) muscles were measured during locomotion in the cat in order to study the functional role of these ankle extensor muscles. Forces and electrical activity (EMG) of the three muscles were measured using home-made force transducers and bipolar, indwelling wire electrodes, respectively, for walking and trotting at speeds of 0.4 to 1.8 m s-1 on a motor-driven treadmill. Video records and a geometrical model of the cat hindlimb were used for calculating the rates of change in lengths of the SO, GA and PL muscles. The instantaneous maximum possible force that can be produced by a muscle at a given fibre length and the rate of change in fibre length (termed contractile abilities) were estimated for each muscle throughout the step cycle. Fibre lengths of the SO, GA and PL were calculated using a planar, geometrical muscle model, measured muscle forces and kinematics, and morphological measurements from the animal after it had been killed. Mechanical power and work of SO, GA and PL were calculated for 144 step cycles. The contribution of the positive work done by the ankle extensor muscles of one hindlimb to the increase of the total mechanical energy of the body (estimated from values in the literature) increased from 4-11% at speeds of locomotion of 0.4 and 0.8 m s-1 to 7-16% at speeds of 1.2 m s-1 and above. The relative contributions of the negative and positive work to the total negative and positive work done by the three ankle extensor muscles increased for GA, decreased for SO and remained about the same for PL, with increasing speeds of locomotion. At speeds of 0.4-0.8 m s-1, the positive work normalized to muscle mass was 7.5-11.0 J kg-1, 1.9-3.0 J kg-1 and 5.3-8.4 J kg-1 for SO, GA and PL, respectively. At speeds of 1.2-1.8 m s-1, the corresponding values were 9.8-16.7 J kg-1, 6.0-10.7 J kg-1 and 13.4-25.0 J kg-1. Peak forces of GA and PL increased and peak forces of SO did not change substantially with increasing speeds of locomotion. The time of decrease of force and the time of decrease of power after peak values had been achieved were much shorter for SO than the corresponding times for GA and PL at fast speeds of locomotion. The faster decrease in the force and power of SO compared with GA and PL was caused by the fast decrease of the contractile abilities and the activation of SO. The results of this study suggest that the ankle extensor muscles play a significant role in the generation of mechanical energy for locomotion.

This content is only available via PDF.