A mechanism for increased contractile strength of human pennate muscle in response to strength training: changes in muscle architecture


Corresponding author P. Aagaard: Department of Neurophysiology, Institute of Medical Physiology 16.5.5, Panum Institute, Blegdamsvej 3, 2200 Kbh-N, Copenhagen, Denmark., Email: p.aagaard@mfi.ku.dk


  • 1In human pennate muscle, changes in anatomical cross-sectional area (CSA) or volume caused by training or inactivity may not necessarily reflect the change in physiological CSA, and thereby in maximal contractile force, since a simultaneous change in muscle fibre pennation angle could also occur.
  • 2Eleven male subjects undertook 14 weeks of heavy-resistance strength training of the lower limb muscles. Before and after training anatomical CSA and volume of the human quadriceps femoris muscle were assessed by use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), muscle fibre pennation angle (θp) was measured in the vastus lateralis (VL) by use of ultrasonography, and muscle fibre CSA (CSAfibre) was obtained by needle biopsy sampling in VL.
  • 3Anatomical muscle CSA and volume increased with training from 77.5 ± 3.0 to 85.0 ± 2.7 cm2 and 1676 ± 63 to 1841 ± 57 cm3, respectively (±s.e.m.). Furthermore, VL pennation angle increased from 8.0 ± 0.4 to 10.7 ± 0.6 deg and CSAfibre increased from 3754 ± 271 to 4238 ± 202 μm2. Isometric quadriceps strength increased from 282.6 ± 11.7 to 327.0 ± 12.4 N m.
  • 4A positive relationship was observed between θp and quadriceps volume prior to training (r = 0.622). Multifactor regression analysis revealed a stronger relationship when θp and CSAfibre were combined (R= 0.728). Post-training increases in CSAfibre were related to the increase in quadriceps volume (r = 0.749).
  • 5Myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform distribution (type I and II) remained unaltered with training.
  • 6VL muscle fibre pennation angle was observed to increase in response to resistance training. This allowed single muscle fibre CSA and maximal contractile strength to increase more (+16 %) than anatomical muscle CSA and volume (+10 %).
  • 7Collectively, the present data suggest that the morphology, architecture and contractile capacity of human pennate muscle are interrelated, in vivo. This interaction seems to include the specific adaptation responses evoked by intensive resistance training.