In the present experiment we obtained the tensile properties of the human gastrocnemius tendon, a high-stressed tendon suitable for spring-like action during locomotion. Measurements were taken in vivo in six men. The gastrocnemius tendon elongation during tendon loading-unloading induced by muscle contraction-relaxation was measured using real-time ultrasonography. Tendon forces were calculated from the moment generated during isometric plantarflexion contraction, using tendon moment arm length data obtained in vivo with the tendon travel method. Tendon stiffness data were calculated from the slope of the tendon force-elongation curve, and were then normalized to the tendon's original dimensions, obtained from morphometric analysis of sonographs, to estimate the tendon Young's modulus. Mechanical hysteresis values were obtained from area calculations by numerical integration. The elongation of the tendon increased curvilinearly with the force acting upon it, from 1.7+/-1mm (0.8+/-0.3% strain) at 87.5+/-8.5 N to 11.1+/-3.1mm (4.9+/-1% strain) at 875+/-85 N. The tendon Young's modulus and mechanical hysteresis were 1.16+/-0.15 GPa and 18+/-3%, respectively. These values fall within the range of values obtained from in vitro experiments and are very similar to the respective values recently obtained from in vivo measurements in the less highly stressed human tibialis anterior tendon (1.2 GPa and 19%), thus indicating that the material properties of tendon are independent of physiological loading and function. Combining the present tendon force-elongation data with previously reported Achilles tendon force data recorded during walking indicates that the gastrocnemius tendon would provide approximately 6% of the total external work produced by the locomotor system. This estimate illustrates the contribution of passive elastic mechanisms on the economy and efficiency of walking. The contributions would be greater in more active exercise such as running.