For electrically stimulated muscles, it has been observed that maximal muscle force during and after stretch is substantially greater than the corresponding isometric force. However, this observation has not been made for human voluntary contractions. We investigated the effects of active muscle stretch on muscle force production for in vivo human adductor pollicis (n = 12) during maximal voluntary contractions and electrically induced contractions. Peak forces during stretch, steady-state isometric forces following stretch, and passive forces following muscle deactivation were compared to the corresponding isometric forces obtained at optimal muscle length. Contractions with different stretch magnitudes (10, 20, and 30 deg at a constant speed of 10 deg s(-1)) and different speeds (10, 20, and 60 deg s(-1) over a range of 30 deg) were performed in triplicate in a random order, balanced design. We found three novel results: (i) there was steady-state force enhancement following stretch in voluntarily contracted muscles; (ii) some force enhancement persisted following relaxation of the muscle and (iii) force enhancement, for some stretch conditions, exceeded the maximum isometric force at optimal muscle length. We conclude from these results that voluntary muscle contraction produces similar force enhancement to that observed in the past with electrically stimulated preparations. Therefore, steady-state force enhancement may play a role in everyday movements. Furthermore, these results suggest that non-uniformities in sarcomere length do not, at least not exclusively, account for the force enhancement following active muscle stretch, and that the stretch magnitude-dependent passive force enhancement observed here may be responsible for the enhancement of force above the isometric reference force at optimal muscle length.
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