How Strong is Human Muscle?


This research was seeking to estimate the true maximum force that human muscle could generate. Professor Anthony J Sargeant wants the reader to understand that answering this question is not as simple as it seems!

In vivo specific tension of human skeletal muscle

Constantinos N Maganaris, Vasilios Baltzopoulos, Derek Ball, Anthony J Sargeant.

Journal of Applied Physiology
J Appl Physiol. 2001 Mar;90(3):865-72
In this study, we estimated the specific tensions of soleus (Sol) and tibialis anterior (TA) muscles in six men. Joint moments were measured during maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) and during electrical stimulation. Moment arm lengths and muscle volumes were measured using magnetic resonance imaging, and pennation angles and fascicular lengths were measured using ultrasonography. Tendon and muscle forces were modeled. Two approaches were followed to estimate specific tension. First, muscle moments during electrical stimulation and moment arm lengths, fascicular lengths, and pennation angles during MVC were used (data set A). Then, MVC moments, moment arm lengths at rest, and cadaveric fascicular lengths and pennation angles were used (data set B). The use of data set B yielded the unrealistic specific tension estimates of 104 kN/m(2) in Sol and 658 kN/m(2) in TA. The use of data set A, however, yielded values of 150 and 155 kN/m(2) in Sol and TA, respectively, which agree with in vitro results from fiber type I-predominant muscles. In fact, both Sol and TA are such muscles. Our study demonstrates the feasibility of accurate in vivo estimates of human muscle intrinsic strength

Spinal cord injuries – paralysed leg muscles


HL Gerrits carried out this research under the direction of Professor Anthony J Sargeant (Amsterdam) and Professor Maria Hopman (Nijmegen). It was part of a research collaboration on spinal cord injury between the two Universities (Vrije University Amsterdam, and the Radboud University, Nijmegen – in the Netherlands). Ms Gerrits went on to submit this published research paper as a chapter in her PhD thesis submitted under the supervision of Professor Tony Sargeant in the Vrije University.


Reproducibility of contractile properties of the human paralysed and non-paralysed quadriceps muscle

Gerrits HL, Maria T Hopman, Anthony J Sargeant, Arnold de Haan.

Clinical Physiology

Clin Physiol. 2001 Jan;21(1):105-13

This study assessed the reproducibility of electrically evoked, isometric quadriceps contractile properties in eight people with spinal cord injury (SCI) and eight able-bodied (AB) individuals. Over all, the pooled coefficients of variation (CVps) in the SCI group were significantly lower (ranging from 0.03 to 0.15) than in the AB group (ranging from 0.08 to 0.21) (P<0.05). Furthermore, in all subjects, the variability of force production increased as stimulation frequency decreased (P<0.01). In subjects with SCI, variables of contractile speed are clearly less reproducible than tetanic tension or resistance to fatigue. Contractile properties of quadriceps muscles of SCI subjects were significantly different from that of AB subjects. Muscles of people with SCI were less fatigue resistant (P<0.05) and produced force-frequency relationships that were shifted to the left, compared with AB controls (P<.01). In addition, fusion of force responses resulting from 10 Hz stimulation was reduced (P<.05) and speed of contraction (but not relaxation) was increased (P<0.05), indicating an increased contractile speed in paralysed muscles compared with non-paralysed muscles. These results correspond with an expected predominance of fast glycolytic muscle fibres in paralysed muscles. It is concluded that quadriceps dynamometry is a useful technique to study muscle function in non-paralysed as well as in paralysed muscles. Furthermore, these techniques can be reliably used, for example, to assess therapeutic interventions on paralysed muscles provided that expected differences in relative tetanic tension and fatigue resistance are larger than approximately 5% and differences in contractile speed are larger than approximately 15%

Calculating the efficiency of human muscle depends on knowing the Total Power generated in exercise


In order to calculate mechanical efficiency during human exercise the total power generated needs to be known. That is the external power delivered to some ergometer plus the internal power required to move the limb. This research carried out in Copenhagen in collaboration with Jens Bangsbo and Per Aagaard addresses this problem. The research publication formed part of the PhD thesis of Richard Ferguson which work was directed by Derek Ball and Professor Anthony J Sargeant.

Total power output generated during dynamic knee extensor exercise at different contraction frequencies

Richard A Ferguson, Per Aagaard, Derek Ball, Anthony J Sargeant, Jens Bangsbo

Journal of Applied Physiology

J Appl Physiol. 2000 Nov;89(5):1912-18

A novel approach has been developed for the quantification of total mechanical power output produced by an isolated, well-defined muscle group during dynamic exercise in humans at different contraction frequencies. The calculation of total power output comprises the external power delivered to the ergometer (i.e., the external power output setting of the ergometer) and the “internal” power generated to overcome inertial and gravitational forces related to movement of the lower limb. Total power output was determined at contraction frequencies of 60 and 100 rpm. At 60 rpm, the internal power was 18+/- 1 W (range: 16-19 W) at external power outputs that ranged between 0 and 50 W. This was less (P<0.05) than the internal power of 33+/-2 W (27-38 W) at 100 rpm at 0-50 W. Moreover, at 100 rpm, internal power was lower (P<0.05) at the higher external power outputs. Pulmonary oxygen uptake was observed to be greater (P<0.05) at 100 than at 60 rpm at comparable total power outputs, suggesting that mechanical efficiency is lower at 100 rpm. Thus a method was developed that allowed accurate determination of the total power output during exercise generated by an isolated muscle group at different contraction frequencies

Human Achilles Tendon – in-vivo estimates of the moment arm


This research publication by (now Professor) Costis Maganaris as first author was an important technical analysis which formed part of his PhD thesis which was jointly supervised by Professor Vasilios Baltzopoulos and Professor Anthony J Sargeant

In vivo measurement-based estimations of the human Achilles tendon moment arm

Costis N Maganaris, Vasilios Baltzopoulos, Anthony J Sargeant.

European Journal of Applied Physiology

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2000 Nov;83(4 -5):363-9

The aim of the present study was to estimate and compare in vivo measurement-based Achilles tendon moment arm lengths at rest and during isometric plantarflexion maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) using the centre-of-rotation (COR) and the tendon-excursion (TE) methods. Both methods were based on morphometric analysis of sagittal-plane magnetic resonance images of the foot. Using the COR method, moment arms were obtained at ankle angles from 15 degrees of dorsiflexion to 30 degrees of plantarflexion in steps of 15 degrees, digitizing the perpendicular distance from a moving centre of rotation in the tibio-talar joint to the Achilles tendon action line. The TE method was based on measurement of calcaneal displacement along the tibial axis during 15 degrees rotations of the ankle joint, from 30 degrees of dorsiflexion to 45 degrees of plantarflexion. The two methods gave similar estimations at rest varying from 4.3 to 5.6 cm. Using the COR method, the Achilles tendon moment arm during MVC was larger by 1-1.5 cm (22-27%, P < 0.01) than the respective resting value. In contrast, no difference (P > 0.05) was found between the resting and MVC moment arm estimations of the TE method. The disagreement in moment arms during MVC may be attributed to differences in the assumptions made between the two methods. The TE method has more limitations than the COR method and its estimations during MVC should be treated with caution. Resting Achilles tendon moment arm estimations of the COR method should be multiplied by 1.22-1.27 when maximal isometric plantarflexion joint moments, musculotendon forces and stresses are predicted using modelling

Functional Electrical Stimulation of leg muscles in people with spinal cord injury


This research publication in the medical journal ‘Spinal Cord’ formed part of a research programme carried out by HL Gerrits under the direction and supervision of Professor Maria Hopman of Radboud University of Nijmegen, Professor Anthony J Sargeant and Arnold de Haan of the Vrije University of Amsterdam. The publication formed a chapter in the PhD thesis of Ms Gerrits.

Altered contractile properties of the quadriceps muscle in people with spinal cord injury following functional electrical stimulated cycle training

Gerrits HL, Arnold de Haan, Anthony J Sargeant, Dallmeijer A, Maria T Hopman.

Spinal Cord. 2000 Apr;38(4):214-223

STUDY DESIGN: A longitudinal training study.
OBJECTIVES: To assess if contractile speed and fatigability of paralysed quadriceps muscles in individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) can be altered by functional electrical stimulation leg cycle ergometry (FES-LCE) training.
SETTINGS: The Sint Maartenskliniek rehabilitation centre and the University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
METHODS: Contractile properties of the quadriceps muscle were studied in seven people with motor-complete SCI who participated in a FES-LCE training program. Subjects trained for 30 min, three times per week for 6 weeks. Contractile speed and fatigue characteristics of electrically stimulated isometric contractions were compared before and after 6 weeks of FES-LCE.
RESULTS: Fatigue resistance improved following FES-LCE training as indicated by the higher forces maintained in response to repetitive electrical stimulation. In contrast with an improved fatigue resistance, the maximal rate of force rise was unaffected, the speed of relaxation increased and the fusion of a 10 Hz force signal decreased. Furthermore, the force-frequency relationship shifted to the right at low stimulation frequencies, indicated by a decline in the ratio of 1 and 100 Hz force responses as well as the ratio of 10 and 100 Hz force responses.
CONCLUSION: FES-LCE training can change the physiological properties of the quadriceps muscle in people with SCI. Even after a short period of training, the stimulated muscles become more resistant to fatigue. Furthermore, the increased speed of relaxation and associated decreased fusion and altered force-frequency relationship following training may be related to adaptations in the calcium handling processes, which reflect an early response of long-term disused muscles.

The electrical stimulation of leg muscles (including FES) of people with Spinal cord injury will be affected by the temperature of the muscle


This research publication formed part of the PhD thesis of H.L. Gerrits who was directed by a team of colleagues from the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam headed by Professor Anthony J Sargeant and Professor Maria Hopman from the Radboud University Nijmegen. The paper shows that (the typically) low muscle temperatures in the limbs of people with spinal cord injury will change the the contractile properties of the muscles when functional electrical stimulation is applied or the muscle properties are assessed in the laboratory.

Influence of muscle temperature on the contractile properties of the quadriceps muscle in humans with spinal cord injury


Clinical Science
Clin Sci (Lond). 2000 Jan;98(1):31-8
Low muscle temperature in paralysed muscles of individuals with spinal cord injury may affect the contractile properties of these muscles. The present study was therefore undertaken to assess the effects of increased muscle temperature on the isometric contractile properties of electrically stimulated paralysed quadriceps muscles. When muscle temperature at a depth of 3 cm was increased from approximately 32 degrees C to approximately 36 degrees C by ultra-short-wave application, the half-relaxation time shortened and low-frequency force responses became less fused, but the maximal rate of increase in force remained unchanged. Heating had no effect upon either force decline or slowing of relaxation during fatiguing contractions. The force-frequency relationship of the paralysed quadriceps muscle was shifted to the right after the muscle was heated. Despite this shift, however, the relationship still resembled that in muscles of non-paralysed individuals, probably due to the unexplained high twitch forces. These results indicate that reduced muscle temperature in spinal-cord-injured individuals may lead to an underestimation of the changes in contractile properties in terms of relaxation rate or the degree of fusion with low-frequency stimulation. In addition, the force-frequency relationship of paralysed muscles does not accurately reflect the magnitude of these changes, even when the muscle is heated, and should therefore be treated with caution.

Prior activation can change the maximum power generated by skeletal muscle


Fabio Abbate was a PhD student working under the direction of Professor Anthony J Sargeant in Amsterdam. This was one of a number of research papers published in eminent scientific journals which formed part of Fabio Abbate’s PhD thesis successfully submitted at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam.

Effects of high-frequency initial pulses and posttetanic potentiation on power output of skeletal muscle

F. Abbate, Anthony J Sargeant, P. W. L. Verdijk, Arnold de Haan

Journal of Applied Physiology
J Appl Physiol. 2000 Jan;88(1):35-40.
The effects of high-frequency initial pulses (HFIP) and posttetanic potentiation on mechanical power output during concentric contractions were examined in the in situ medial gastrocnemius of the rat with an intact origin on the femur and blood supply. Stimulation of the muscle was performed via the severed sciatic nerve. In the experiments, HFIP or the potentiating tetanus was followed by a stimulation of 80, 120, or 200 Hz. The results showed that both HFIP and the tetanus increased power output at high contraction velocities (>75 mm/s) when followed by a train of 80 or 120 Hz (200 Hz resulted in no effects). Mechanical power output was increased maximally by HFIP to 120 and 168% by the tetanus. Furthermore, when HFIP or the tetanus were followed by a train of 80 Hz, the peak power in the power-velocity curve tended to be shifted to a higher velocity.