An active learning mammalian skeletal muscle lab demonstrating contractile and kinetic properties of fast- and slow-twitch muscle

Adv Physiol Educ. 2013 Dec;37(4):405-14. doi: 10.1152/advan.00155.2012.


The fact that humans possess fast- and slow-twitch muscle in the ratio of ∼50% has profound implications for designing exercise training strategies for power and endurance activities. With the growth of exercise and sport science courses, we have seen the need to develop an undergraduate student laboratory that demonstrates the basic properties of fast- and slow-twitch mammalian skeletal muscle. This laboratory illustrates the major differences in contractile properties and fatigue profiles exhibited by the two muscle types. Students compare and contrast twitch kinetics, fused tetanus characteristics, force-frequency relationships, and fatigue properties of fast- and slow-twitch muscles. Examples of results collected by students during class are used to illustrate the type of data collected and analysis performed. During the laboratory, students are encouraged to connect factual information from their skeletal muscle lectures to their laboratory findings. This enables student learning in an active fashion; in particular, the isolated muscle preparation demonstrates that much of what makes muscle fast or slow is myogenic and not the product of the nervous or circulatory systems. This has far-reaching implications for motor control and exercise behavior and therefore is a crucial element in exercise science, with its focus on power and endurance sport activities. To measure student satisfaction with this active learning technique, a questionnaire was administered after the laboratory; 96% of the comments were positive in their support of active versus passive learning strategies.

Keywords: contraction; fatigue; isolated muscle; skeletal muscle physiology laboratories, active learning.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Laboratories*
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Muscle Fatigue
  • Muscle Fibers, Fast-Twitch / physiology*
  • Muscle Fibers, Slow-Twitch / physiology*
  • Physiology / education*
  • Rats