We show prolonged contraction of permeabilized muscle fibers of the frog during which structural order, as judged from low-angle x-ray diffraction, was preserved by means of partial cross-linking of the fibers using the zero-length cross-linker 1-ethyl-3-[3-dimethylamino)propyl]carbodiimide. Ten to twenty percent of the myosin cross-bridges were cross-linked, allowing the remaining 80-90% to cycle and generate force. These fibers displayed a well-preserved sarcomeric order and mechanical characteristics similar to those of intact muscle fibers. The intensity of the brightest meridional reflection at 14.5 nm, resulting from the projection of cross-bridges evenly spaced along the myofilament length, decreased by 60% as a relaxed fiber was deprived of ATP and entered the rigor state. Upon activation of a rigorized fiber by the addition of ATP, the intensity of this reflection returned to 97% of the relaxed value, suggesting that the overall orientation of cross-bridges in the active muscle was more perpendicular to the filament axis than in rigor. Following a small-amplitude length step applied to the active fibers, the reflection intensity decreased for both releases and stretches. In rigor, however, a small stretch increased the amplitude of the reflection by 35%. These findings show the close link between cross-bridge orientation and tension changes.