The effects of length trajectory on the mechanical power output of mouse soleus and extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscles were investigated using the work loop technique in vitro at 37 degrees C. Muscles were subjected to sinusoidal and sawtooth cycles of lengthening and shortening; for the sawtooth cycles, the proportion of the cycle spent shortening was varied. For each cycle frequency examined, the timing and duration of stimulation and the strain amplitude were optimized to yield the maximum power output. During sawtooth length trajectories, power increased as the proportion of the cycle spent shortening increased. The increase in power was attributable to more complete activation of the muscle due to the longer stimulation duration, to a more rapid rise in force resulting from increased stretch velocity and to an increase in the optimal strain amplitude. The power produced during symmetrical sawtooth cycles was 5-10 % higher than during sinusoidal work loops. Maximum power outputs of 92 W kg-1 (soleus) and 247 W kg-1 (EDL) were obtained by manipulating the length trajectory. For each muscle, this was approximately 70 % of the maximum power output estimated from the isotonic force-velocity relationship. We have found a number of examples suggesting that animals exploit prolonging the shortening phase during activities requiring a high power output, such as flying, jet-propulsion swimming and vocalization. In an evolutionary context, increasing the relative shortening duration provides an alternative to increasing the maximum shortening velocity (Vmax) as a way to increase power output.