There are high mechanical demands placed on skeletal muscles in movements requiring rapid acceleration of the body or its limbs. Tendons are responsible for transmitting muscle forces, but, due to their elasticity, can manipulate the mechanics of the internal contractile apparatus. Shortening of the contractile apparatus against the stretch of tendon affects force generation according to known mechanical properties, however, the extent to which differences in tendon compliance alter force development in response to a burst of electrical impulses is unclear. To establish the influence of series compliance on force summation, we studied electrically evoked doublet contractions in the cane toad peroneus muscle in the presence and absence of a compliant artificial tendon. Additional series compliance reduced tetanic force by two-thirds, a finding predicted based on the force-length property of skeletal muscle. Doublet force and force-time integral expressed relative to the twitch were also reduced by additional series compliance. Active shortening over a larger range of the ascending limb of the force-length curve and at a higher velocity, leading to a progressive reduction in force-generating potential, could be responsible. Muscle-tendon interaction may also explain the accelerated time course of force relaxation in the presence of additional compliance. Our findings suggest that a compliant tendon limits force summation under constant-length conditions. However, high series compliance can be mechanically advantageous when a muscle-tendon unit is actively stretched, permitting muscle fibres to generate force almost isometrically, as shown during stretch-shorten cycles in locomotor activities. Restricting active shortening would likely favour rapid force development.
- Received May 11, 2016.
- Accepted August 31, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd