European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 113, Issue 9, pp 2313–2322 | Cite as

Can muscle shortening alone, explain the energy cost of muscle contraction in vivo?

  • Jared R. Fletcher
  • Erik M. Groves
  • Ted R. Pfister
  • Brian R. MacIntoshEmail author
Original Article



Decreased whole-body energy cost of running has been associated with an increased Achilles tendon stiffness. It is usually assumed that this lower energy cost can be attributed to less muscle fascicle shortening with a stiffer tendon. Increased fiber shortening is an important determinant of muscle energetics in vitro. However, other factors, like increased muscle activation may be important when considering whole muscle energetics in vivo.


To determine the effects of a small additional muscle shortening on skeletal muscle energy requirement, 19 subjects performed 30 plantarflexions on two separate occasions: isometric (ISO) and isokinetic (KIN, 6.98 rad s–1), each with a target of 50 % of maximum isometric torque. Medial gastrocnemius muscle fascicle length (FL) was measured by ultrasound and rate of oxyhemoglobin (HbO2) desaturation was measured during blood flow occlusion using near-infrared spectroscopy.


KIN resulted in significantly greater muscle shortening (23.8 ± 1.3 mm) than ISO (18.3 ± 1.0 mm, p < 0.001, mean ± SEM), and greater shortening velocity (KIN = 2.5 ± 0.3 FL s–1, ISO = 1.1 ± 0.1 FL s–1, p < 0.001). Rate of HbO2 desaturation was 19 ± 7 %, greater in KIN than ISO (p < 0.01), despite 19 ± 2 % lower mean torque (p < 0.001) and 9.8 ± 1.6 Nm s lower mean impulse per contraction (p < 0.001) in KIN compared to ISO. Root mean square for EMG was significantly greater (p < 0.05) during KIN (73 ± 3 %) than during ISO (63 ± 2 %).


These results illustrate that muscle energy requirement is greater when muscle fascicle shortening and/or velocity of shortening is increased, and suggest that greater activation contributes to that increased energy requirement.


Ultrasound Near-infrared spectroscopy Medial gastrocnemius Achilles tendon Triceps surae 



Achilles tendon


Fascicle-aponeurosis displacement


Ankle joint displacement


Energy cost






Fascicle length










Lateral gastrocnemius


Corrected moment


Measured moment


Moment arm


Medial gastrocnemius


Maximal voluntary contraction


Near-infrared spectroscopy


Root mean square





This study was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Conflict of interest

The authors report no commercial involvement which may bias the process of data collection, reporting and/or interpretation.

Ethical standard

The authors declare that the experiments comply with current Canadian laws and all experimental procedures were approved by the University of Calgary Conjoint Health Research Ethics Board.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jared R. Fletcher
    • 1
  • Erik M. Groves
    • 1
  • Ted R. Pfister
    • 1
  • Brian R. MacIntosh
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Human Performance Laboratory, Faculty of KinesiologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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