Muscle mechanics: adaptations with exercise-training

Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 1996:24:427-73.


Based on the MHC isoform pattern, adult mammalian limb skeletal muscles contain two and, in some species, three types of fast fibers (Type IIa, IIx, and IIb), and one slow fiber (Type I). Slow muscles, such as the soleus, contain primarily the slow Type I fiber, whereas fast-twitch muscles are composed primarily of a mixture of the fast myosin isozymes. Force generation involves cross-bridge interaction and transition from a weakly bound, low-force state (AM-ADP-P(i)) to the strongly bound, high-force state (AM-ADP). This transition is thought to be rate limiting in terms of dP/dt, and the high-force state is the dominant cross-bridge form during a peak isometric contraction. Intact fast and slow skeletal muscles generate approximately the same amount of peak force (Po) of between 200 and 250 kN.m-2. However, the rate of transition from the low- to high-force state shows Ca2+ sensitivity and is 7-fold higher in fast-twitch, as compared to slow-twitch, skeletal muscle fibers. Fiber Vo or the maximal cross-bridge cycle rate is highly correlated with and thought to be dependent on the specific activity of the myosin or myofibrillar ATPase. The hierarchy for Vo is the Type IIb > IIx > IIa > I. This functional difference for the fast fiber types explains the higher Vo observed in the predominantly Type IIb SVL vs. the mixed fast Type IIa and IIb EDL muscle. A plot of Vo vs. species size demonstrates that an inverse relationship exists between Vo and body mass. From the standpoint of work capacity, the important property is power output. An analysis of individual muscles indicates that peak power is obtained at loads considerably below 50% of Po. Individuals with a high percentage of fast-twitch fibers generate a greater torque and higher power at a given velocity than those with predominantly slow-twitch fibers. In humans, mean peak power occurred in a ratio of 10:5:1 for the Type IIb, IIa, and I fibers. The in vivo measurement of the torque-velocity relationship and Vmax in human muscle is difficult because of limitations inherent in the equipment used and the inability to study the large limb muscles independently. Nevertheless, the in vivo torque-velocity relationships are similar to those measured in vitro in animals. This observation suggests that little central nervous system inhibition exists and that healthy subjects are able to achieve maximal activation of their muscles. Although peak isometric tension is not dependent on fiber type distribution, a positive correlation exists between the percentage of fast fibers and peak torque output at moderate-to-high angular isokinetic velocities. Consequently, peak power output is substantially greater in subjects possessing a predominance of fast fibers. The mechanical properties of slow and fast muscles do adapt to programs of regular exercise. Endurance exercise training has been shown to increase the Vo of the slow soleus by 20%. This increase could have been caused by either a small increase in all, or most, of the fibers, or to a conversion of a few fibers from slow to fast. Recently, the increase was shown to be caused by the former, as the individual slow Type I fibers of the soleus showed a 20% increase in Vo, but there was little or no change in the percentage of fast fibers. The increased Vo was correlated with, and likely caused by, an increased fiber ATPase. We hypothesize that the increased ATPase and cross-bridge cycling speed might be attributable to an increased expression of fast MLCs in the slow Type I fibers (Fig. 14.10). This hypothesis is based on the fact that light chains have been shown to be involved in the power stroke, and removal of light chains depresses force and velocity. Regular endurance exercise training had no effect on fiber size, but with prolonged durations of daily training it depressed Po and peak power. When the training is maintained over prolonged periods, it may even induce atrophy of the slow Type I and fast Type IIa fibers. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Movement / physiology
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscle Proteins / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Myosins / analysis
  • Physical Endurance / physiology


  • Muscle Proteins
  • Myosins