Muscle in Variable Gravity: "I Do Not Know Where I Am, But I Know What to Do"

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Elena Monti
  • Janice Waldvogel
  • Ramona Ritzmann
  • Kathrin Freyler
  • Kirsten Albracht
  • Michael Helm
  • Niccolò De Cesare
  • Piero Pavan
  • Carlo Reggiani
  • Albert Gollhofer
  • Marco Vincenzo Narici

Research units


Purpose: Fascicle and sarcomere lengths are important predictors of muscle mechanical performance. However, their regulation during stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) activities in usual and challenging conditions is poorly understood. In this study, we aimed to investigate muscle fascicle and sarcomere behavior during drop jumps (a common SSC activity) in conditions of variable gravity. Methods: Fifteen volunteers performed repeated drop jumps in 1 g, hypo-gravity (0 to 1 g), and hyper-gravity (1 to 2 g) during a parabolic flight. Gastrocnemius medialis (GM) electromyographic activity and fascicle length (Lf) were measured at drop-off, ground contact (GC), minimum ankle joint angle (MAJ), and push-off. GM sarcomere number was estimated by dividing Lf, measured by ultrasound at rest, by published data on GM sarcomere length, and measured in vivo at the same joint angle. Changes in sarcomere length were estimated by dividing GM Lf in each jump phase by sarcomere number calculated individually. The sarcomere force-generating capacity in each jump phase was estimated from the sarcomere length-tension relationship previously reported in the literature. Results: The results showed that, regardless of the gravity level, GM sarcomeres operated in the ascending portion of their length-tension relationship in all the jump phases. Interestingly, although in hypo-gravity and hyper-gravity during the braking phase (GC-MAJ) GM fascicles and sarcomeres experienced a stretch (as opposed to the quasi-isometric behavior in 1 g), at MAJ they reached similar lengths as in 1 g, allowing sarcomeres to develop about the 70% of their maximum force. Conclusion: The observed fascicle behavior during drop jumping seems useful for anchoring the tendon, enabling storage of elastic energy and its release in the subsequent push-off phase for effectively re-bouncing in all gravity levels, suggesting that an innate neuromuscular wisdom enables to perform SSC movements also in challenging conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number714655
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 04.08.2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2021 Monti, Waldvogel, Ritzmann, Freyler, Albracht, Helm, De Cesare, Pavan, Reggiani, Gollhofer and Narici.

ID: 6273760

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