A muscle's force depends on the recruitment patterns of its fibers

James M. Wakeling*, Sabrina S M Lee, Allison S. Arnold, Maria De Boef Miara, Andrew A. Biewener

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Biomechanical models of whole muscles commonly used in simulations of musculoskeletal function and movement typically assume that the muscle generates force as a scaled-up muscle fiber. However, muscles are comprised of motor units that have different intrinsic properties and that can be activated at different times. This study tested whether a muscle model comprised of motor units that could be independently activated resulted in more accurate predictions of force than traditional Hill-type models. Forces predicted by the models were evaluated by direct comparison with the muscle forces measured in situ from the gastrocnemii in goats. The muscle was stimulated tetanically at a range of frequencies, muscle fiber strains were measured using sonomicrometry, and the activation patterns of the different types of motor unit were calculated from electromyographic recordings. Activation patterns were input into five different muscle models. Four models were traditional Hill-type models with different intrinsic speeds and fiber-type properties. The fifth model incorporated differential groups of fast and slow motor units. For all goats, muscles and stimulation frequencies the differential model resulted in the best predictions of muscle force. The in situ muscle output was shown to depend on the recruitment of different motor units within the muscle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1708-1720
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of Biomedical Engineering
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • MG
  • Muscle model
  • Sonomicrometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering


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