Experiments were designed to assess the relative contribution of rate coding and motor unit recruitment to force production in two muscles of different fiber composition and function. Single motor unit action potentials were recorded during steady isometric contraction in biceps brachii, a large proximal limb muscle of mixed fiber composition, and adductor pollicis, a small hand muscle comprised mainly of type I muscle fibers. Action potential spike trains were obtained over the entire force range in each muscle. The results suggest that these two muscles are controlled in different ways. In biceps brachii, recruitment was observed from 0 to 88% maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). In adductor pollicis, no motor unit was observed to be recruited at forces greater than 50% MVC, with the majority of recruitment occurring below 30% MVC. On the average, motor units in adductor pollicis discharged at higher rates, with less regularity, and with a greater frequency of occurrence of short interspike intervals (intervals less than or equal to 20 msec) than those in biceps brachii. Such findings suggest that rate coding plays a more prominent role in force modulation in adductor pollicis, while recruitment plays a more important role throughout the contractile force range in biceps brachii.