In vivo specific tension of the human quadriceps femoris muscle

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It is not known to what extent the inter-individual variation in human muscle strength is explicable by differences in specific tension. To investigate this, a comprehensive approach was used to determine in vivo specific tension of the quadriceps femoris (QF) muscle (Method 1). Since this is a protracted technique, a simpler procedure was also developed to accurately estimate QF specific tension (Method 2). Method 1 comprised calculating patellar tendon force (F (t)) in 27 young, untrained males, by correcting maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) for antagonist co-activation, voluntary activation and moment arm length. For each component muscle, the physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA) was calculated as volume divided by fascicle length during MVC. Dividing F (t) by the sum of the four PCSAs (each multiplied by the cosine of its pennation angle during MVC) provided QF specific tension. Method 2 was a simplification of Method 1, where QF specific tension was estimated from a single anatomical CSA and vastus lateralis muscle geometry. Using Method 1, the variability in MVC (18%) and specific tension (16%) was similar. Specific tension from Method 1 (30 +/- A 5 N cm(-2)) was similar to and correlated with that of Method 2 (29 +/- A 5 N cm(-2); R (2) = 0.67; P <0.05). In conclusion, most of the inter-individual variability in MVC torque remains largely unexplained. Furthermore, a simple method of estimating QF specific tension provided similar values to the comprehensive approach, thereby enabling accurate estimations of QF specific tension where time and resources are limited.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)827-838
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2009


  • Quadriceps femoris, PCSA, Muscle architecture, Inter-individual variability, Specific tension