Shift of activity from slow to fast muscle during voluntary lenghtening contractions of the triceps surae muscles in humans

A. Nardone, M. Schieppati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Raw or rectified and integrated electromyograms (integrated EMGs) of the leg muscles were recorded during (a) isotonic ramp shortening or lengthening contractions consisting of foot plantar flexions against a constant load, or dorsal flexions accomplished by braking the load and yielding to it, respectively, and (b) isometric increasing or decreasing plantar torques accomplished by graded contractions or relaxations of the triceps muscles. During plantar flexions or increasing torques, the EMG of soleus, gastrocnemius lateralis, medialis, and peroneus increased in parallel. During decreasing torques, motor unit derecruitment took place gradually and simultaneously. The tibialis anterior was silent. During dorsal flexions, one of two characteristic patterns was observed in different subjects: (a) soleus was abruptly decruited at the beginning of the task, while gastrocnemius lateralis (or medialis) exhibited a large recruitment lasting throughout the lengthening contraction; (b) soleus remained active during the task, showing large motor unit potentials, while the gastrocnemius lateralis recruitment was of a lesser extent than in (a). Peroneus derecruitment was gradual and tibialis anterior activity was absent in both cases. The EMG patterns observed during plantar flexions or in increasing and decreasing torques, and the two patterns observed during shortening or lengthening contractions, were closely reproduced during sinusoidal oscillations of the foot or in isometric contractions and relaxations. When recruitment of the gastrocnemius lateralis was present during dorsal flexion, the slope of its integrated EMG envelope was steeper, the higher the velocity of lengthening contraction. The most rapid and the slowest tasks, however, did not require its activation. Gastrocnemius lateralis integrated EMGs of an amplitude similar to those occurring during lengthening contractions were observed only during ballistic plantar flexions. The two patterns of triceps activation occurring during lengthening contraction could be traced to different mechanical characteristics of the soleus muscles, the gastrocnemius lateralis being activated preferentially in subjects with long soleus half-relaxation times, and the soleus in subjects with short soleus half-relaxation times. The soleus and gastrocnemius lateralis H reflexes were tested during shortening and lengthening contractions. Under these conditions, their amplitudes increased above rest values during shortening contractions; during lengthening contractions, both reflexes decreased to well below rest values regardless of the pattern of activation of the corresponding muscles during dorsal flexion. The results indicate that voluntary triceps surae lengthening contractions are performed by decruitment of slow muscles or motor units, accompanied by selective activation of fast muscles or motor units. The mechanical advantage of this behaviour is considered, and the possible neural mechanisms responsible for it are discussed, including presynaptic and recurrent inhibition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-381
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


Dive into the research topics of 'Shift of activity from slow to fast muscle during voluntary lenghtening contractions of the triceps surae muscles in humans'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this