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Tendon stiffness increases as the magnitude and rate of loading increases, according to its viscoelastic properties. Thus, under some loading conditions tendons should become exceptionally stiff and act almost as rigid force transducers. Nonetheless, observations of tendon behavior during multi-joint sprinting and jumping tasks have shown that tendon strain increases whilst muscle strain decreases as the loading intensity increases. The purpose of the current study was to examine the influence of external loading intensity on muscle–tendon unit (MTU) behavior during a high-speed single-joint, stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) knee extension task. Eighteen men (n = 9) and women (n = 9) performed single-leg, maximum intensity SSC knee extensions at loads of 20, 60 and 90 % of their one repetition maximum. Vastus lateralis fascicle length (Lf) and velocity (vf) as well as MTU (LMTU) and tendinous tissue (Lt) length were measured using high-speed ultrasonography (96 Hz). Patellar tendon force (Ft) and rate of force development (RFDt) were estimated using inverse dynamics. Results showed that as loading intensity increased, concentric joint velocity and shortening vf decreased whilst Ft and RFDt increased, but no significant differences were observed in eccentric joint velocity or peak LMTU or Lf. In addition, the tendon lengthened significantly less at the end of the eccentric phase at heavier loads. This is the first observation that tendon strain decreases significantly during a SSC movement as loading intensity increases in vivo, resulting in a shift in the tendon acting as a power amplifier at light loads to a more rigid force transducer at heavy loads.


Institute for Health and Ageing

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Journal Article

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