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Relationships between muscle strength and muscle cross-sectional area in male sprinters and endurance runners

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The relationship between the cross-sectional area (CSA) and maximum voluntary isometric strength of the knee extensor muscles was measured in a group of untrained subjects (control group, n=30), a group of successful marathon runners (n=6) and a group of successful sprinters (n=6). All subjects were male, aged between 20 and 41 years. In the control group muscle strength was found to be positively correlated with lean body mass (p<0.01) and with muscle CSA as determined by computed tomography scanning of the leg at mid-thigh level (p<0.001). However, in spite of these significant relationships, there was considerable variability between subjects. The sprinters were significantly stronger than the endurance runners (p<0.01), but neither of the athletic groups differed significantly from the control group. Muscle CSA was greater in the sprinters than in the marathon runners but this difference was not significant. The ratio of muscle strength to CSA in the control group varied from 7.07 to 13.57. All the trained subjects fell within this normal range, but the sprinters' muscles were stronger per unit CSA than the muscles of the marathon runners (p<0.05). Since it is well established that the leg muscles of sprinters contain a high proportion of fast twitch (FT) muscle fibres whereas endurance runners have a high proportion of slow twitch (ST) fibres, these results suggest that the strength which can be produced by a muscle may depend on its fibre composition. Variation in the distribution of the different fibre types in the untrained population may therefore account at least in part for the wide variability observed in this group.

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Maughan, R.J., Watson, J.S. & Weir, J. Relationships between muscle strength and muscle cross-sectional area in male sprinters and endurance runners. Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. 50, 309–318 (1983).

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