The present study investigated whether differences between adults and children in mechanical power during single-joint knee extension tasks and the complex multijoint task of jumping could be explained by differences in the quadriceps femoris muscle volume. Peak power was calculated during squat jumps, from the integral of the vertical force measured by a force plate, and during concentric knee extensions at 30, 90, 120, 180 and 240 deg s(-1), and muscle volume was measured from magnetic resonance images for 10 men, 10 women, 10 prepubertal boys and 10 prepubertal girls. Peak power during jumping and isokinetic knee extension was significantly higher in men than in women, and in both adult groups compared with children (P < 0.01), although there were no differences between boys and girls. When power was normalized to muscle volume, the intergroup differences ceased to exist for both tasks. Peak power correlated significantly with quadriceps volume (P < 0.01), with r(2) values of 0.8, 0.86, 0.81, 0.78 and 0.81 from isokinetic knee extension at angular velocities of 30, 90, 120, 180 and 240 deg s(-1), respectively, and with an r(2) value of 0.9 from squat jumps. These results indicate that the quadriceps femoris muscle volume accounts largely for the increase in power that occurs with maturation in the two genders not only in kinematically constrained knee extensions but also in multijoint tasks. Future studies should examine the role of other factors relating to the generation and transmission of contractile power, such as muscle architecture, tendon stiffness and external mechanical leverage.