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Abstract

Length-force relations, both active and passive, and twitch contraction characteristics were quantified for left medial gastrocnemius muscles of four young, four adult, and four old male Wistar rats. Muscle and bundle optimum length and muscle weight were also determined and subsequently used for calculation of a number of morphological characteristics of the muscles. Fiber optimum length was derived from muscle bundle optimum length. Generally, physiological characteristics remained constant during growth. There was no change either in active tension at muscle optimum length or in active working range relative to fiber optimum length, relative passive fiber stiffness, active force relative to passive force at optimum length, twitch contraction time and twitch half relaxation time at optimum length. A number of morphological changes, however, did take place in the medial gastrocnemius muscle during growth. Fiber optimum length increased but only by about 2 mm from youth to old age, whereas muscle optimum length increased by approximately 14 mm, presumably owing to extensive hypertrophy of the muscle fibers during growth. The priority for force of the medial gastrocnemius muscle (defined as the quotient of physiological cross-sectional area of a muscle and the cubed root of its volume, a measure independent of architecture and dimensions of muscles) increased during growth. This increase indicates that during growth the muscle shifts relatively more towards force generation than towards excursion generation. These findings are discussed in view of existing scaling theories.