1. A large population (n = 151) of human skinned skeletal muscle fibres has been studied. Force-velocity curves of sixty-seven fibres were obtained by load-clamp manoeuvres at 12 degrees C. In each fibre maximum shortening velocity (Vmax), maximum power output (Wmax), optimal velocity (velocity at which Wmax is developed, Vopt), optimal force (force at which Wmax is developed, Popt), specific tension (Po/CSA, isometric tension/cross-sectional area) were assessed. Unloaded shortening velocity (Vo) was also determined at 12 degrees C in a different group (n = 57) of fibres by slack-test procedure. 2. All fibres used for mechanical experiments were characterized on the basis of the myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform composition by sodium dodecyl sulphate (SDS)-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and divided into five types: type I (or slow), types IIA and IIB (or fast), and types I-IIA and IIA-IIB (or mixed types). 3. Vmax, Wmax, Vopt, Popt, Vopt/Vmax ratio, Po/CSA and Vo were found to depend on MHC isoform composition. All parameters were significantly lower in type I than in the fast (type IIA and IIB) fibres. Among fast fibres, Vmax, Wmax, Vopt and Vo were significantly lower in type IIA and than in IIB fibres, whereas Popt, Po/CSA and Vopt/Vmax were similar. 4. The temperature dependence of Vo and Po/CSA was assessed in a group of twenty-one fibres in the range 12-22 degrees C. In a set of six fibres temperature dependence of Vmax was also studied. The Q10 (5.88) and activation energy E (125 kJ mol-1) values for maximum shortening velocity calculated from Arrhenius plots pointed to a very high temperature sensitivity. Po/CSA was very temperature dependent in the 12-17 degrees C range, but less dependent between 17 and 22 degrees C.