In this research published in Journal of Physiology Anthony Sargeant and his team describe how the recruitment of different types of muscle fibres with increasing exercise intensity changes the oxygen cost of exercise. Thus the relationship of oxygen uptake and mechanical power output is not constant. This is in contrast to the standard teaching of many physiology textbooks.
Non-linear relationship between O2 uptake and power output at high intensities of exercise in humans
The data from these studies are examined in the light of the force velocity characteristics of human type I and type II muscle fibres. The ‘plasticity’ of fibre properties is discussed with reference to the ‘acute’ changes elicited by exercise induced fatigue and changes in muscle temperature and ‘chronic’ changes occurring following intensive training and ageing
Rat medial gastrocnemius muscle-tendon complexes (with arrested blood flow) performed a series of ten repeated contractions (1.s-1) with either an active stretch or an isometric phase preceding the shortening. Contraction duration (0.45 s), and shortening duration (0.3 s), distance (6 mm) and velocity (20 mm.s-1) were the same in both types of contraction. Work output during the ten shortening phases was approximately 40% higher in the contractions with an active pre-stretch; in contrast, high-energy phosphate utilization was similar. Over the ten repeated contractions reduction of work output during the shortening phases of both types of contraction was similar in absolute terms (approx. 9.5 mJ). It is suggested that all the extra work performed during the shortening phases after a pre-stretch originated from sources other than cross-bridge cycling, which are hardly affected by fatigue. However, reduction of work output in relative terms, which is how the reduction is often expressed in voluntary exercise, was less after a pre-stretch (26% vs 32%), giving the impression of protection against fatigue by an active pre-stretch.
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.
After a 5 min recovery period the sequence was repeated. Comparison was made between the fatigued and recovered state in each preparation in order to allow for any change in the preparation during the course of the experiment. After 15 s contraction the fatigued muscles showed a marked reduction in all parameters measured. In fatigued muscles the isometric force fell to 48 +/- 15% (mean +/- SD) and there was a decrease in maximum velocity of shortening to 66%. These changes in the force-velocity relationship were accompanied by slowing of relaxation so that the half time of relaxation nearly doubled. The consequence of these changes was that the maximum power output was reduced by a much greater extent than was the isometric force (75% vs. 52%). It is suggested that the changes in force-velocity characteristics reflect a reduction in cross-bridge cycling in fatigued muscle
A greater reduction in power output and relaxation rate after the 5th contraction indicated a greater reduction of the cross-bridge cycling rate in the younger rats. ATP, phosphocreatine and lactate concentrations after the last contraction were not different between the age-groups. In contrast IMP production, which has been suggested may play a regulatory role during fatigue was twice as high in the young rats. Judged by isometric force production there is no age-related difference in fatiguability. However, profound differences were observed in power output, which indicates that quantification of fatigue as a loss of isometric force may be seriously misleading when considering the functional status of the muscle for normal dynamic contractions.