Length changes of the muscle-tendon complex (MTC) during activity are in part the result of length changes of the active muscle fibres, the contractile component (CC), and also in part the result of stretch of elastic structures [series-elastic component (SEC)]. We used a force platform and kinematic measurements to determine force and length of the human calf muscle during walking, running and squat jumping. The force-length relation of the SEC was determined in dynamometer experiments on the same four subjects. Length of the CC was calculated as total muscle-tendon length minus the force dependent length of the SEC. The measured relations between force and length or velocity were compared with the individually determined force-length and force-velocity relations of the CC. In walking or running the negative work performed in the eccentric phase was completely stored as elastic energy. This elastic energy was released in the concentric phase, at speeds well exceeding the maximum shortening speed predicted by the Hill force-velocity relation. Speed of the CC, in contrast, was positive and low, well within the range predicted by the measured force-velocity properties and compatible with a favourable muscular efficiency. These effects were also present in purely concentric contractions, like the squatted jump. Contractile component length usually started at the far end of the force-length relation. Inter-individual differences in series-elastic stiffness were reflected in the force and length recordings during natural activity.