Strips of tonically contracted canine tracheal and bronchial airway smooth muscles (AWSM) were studied in vitro to compare dynamic muscle force during stretch-retraction cycles with static isometric muscle force at various length points within the cycling range. At any particular rate, a characteristic force-length loop was obtained by cycling over a given range of lengths. Dynamic muscle force dropped well below static isometric muscle force at lengths short of the peak length at all rates of cycling. When stretch or retraction of the muscle was stopped at any point along either path of the cycle, muscle force rose to approach the isometric force at that length. Dynamic force at the peak length of the cycle remained close to, or slightly greater than, the static isometric force. The results suggest that the velocity of shortening of tonically contracted AWSM is very slow relative to the rates of cycling employed. A slow rate of shortening of AWSM relative to the rate of change in airway caliber during breathing could account for well-known effects of volume history on airway tone.