, Volume 90, Issue 1-2, pp 191-198
Date: 09 Jul 2003

The force–velocity relationship of the human soleus muscle during submaximal voluntary lengthening actions

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Abstract

In experiments on isolated animal muscle, the force produced during active lengthening contractions can be up to twice the isometric force, whereas in human experiments lengthening force shows only modest, if any, increase in force. The presence of synergist and antagonist muscle activation associated with human experiments in situ may partly account for the difference between animal and human studies. Therefore, this study aimed to quantify the force–velocity relationship of the human soleus muscle and assess the likelihood that co-activation of antagonist muscles was responsible for the inhibition of torque during submaximal voluntary plantar flexor efforts. Seven subjects performed submaximal voluntary lengthening, shortening(at angular, velocities of +5, −5, +15, −15 and +30, and −30° s−1) and isometric plantar flexor efforts against an ankle torque motor. Angle-specific (90°) measures of plantar flexor torque plus surface and intramuscular electromyography from soleus, medial gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior were made. The level of activation (30% of maximal voluntary isometric effort) was maintained by providing direct visual feedback of the soleus electromyogram to the subject. In an attempt to isolate the contribution of soleus to the resultant plantar flexion torque, activation of the synergist and antagonist muscles were minimised by: (1) flexing the knee of the test limb, thereby minimising the activation of gastrocnemius, and (2) applying an anaesthetic block to the common peroneal nerve to eliminate activation of the primary antagonist muscle, tibialis anterior and the synergist muscles, peroneus longus and peroneus brevis. Plantar flexion torque decreased significantly (P<0.05) after blocking the common peroneal nerve which was likely due to abolishing activation of the peroneal muscles which are synergists for plantar flexion. When normalised to the corresponding isometric value, the force–velocity relationship between pre- and post-block conditions was not different. In both conditions, plantar flexion torques during shortening actions were significantly less than the isometric torque and decreased at faster velocities. During lengthening actions, however, plantar flexion torques were not significantly different from isometric regardless of angular velocity. It was concluded that the apparent inhibition of lengthening torques during voluntary activation is not due to co-activation of antagonist muscles. Results are presented as mean (SEM).