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A “functional biopsy” of muscle properties in sprinters and distance runners


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: November 2002 - Volume 34 - Issue 11 - pp 1719-1724
BASIC SCIENCES: Original Investigations

CROWTHER, G. J., S. A. JUBRIAS, R. K. GRONKA, and K. E. CONLEY. A “functional biopsy” of muscle properties in sprinters and distance runners. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 34, No. 11, pp. 1719–1724, 2002.

Purpose : Fast- and slow-twitch human muscle fibers exhibit large (two- to threefold) differences in metabolic enzyme activities and contractile economy. We asked whether comparable flux differences are evident in the muscles of athletes specializing in extremely different (i.e., sprint and long-distance) running events.

Methods : We took an in vivo “functional biopsy” of the ankle dorsiflexor muscles of 17 members of a university track team by using 31P magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Ten sprinters (SPR) and seven distance runners (DIS) performed rapid isometric dorsiflexions against the resistance of a plastic foot holder. The contractile cost of exercise and glycolytic flux were calculated from changes in pH, [PCr], and [Pi] during ischemic exercise, and oxidative capacity was calculated from PCr recovery kinetics after aerobic exercise.

Results : Contractile costs were 47% higher in SPR than in DIS, whereas oxidative capacities were 52% higher in DIS than in SPR. Surprisingly, glycolytic ATP production was similar in the two groups.

Conclusion : The muscles of SPR and DIS exhibit clear differences in energetic properties, but these differences are smaller than the two- to three-fold variations seen in the properties of individual muscle fibers.

Departments of Radiology, Physiology & Biophysics, and Bioengineering, University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle, WA

Submitted for publication April 2002.

Accepted for publication July 2002.

Address for correspondence: Kevin E. Conley, Ph.D., Department of Radiology, Box 357115, University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle, WA 98195-7115; E-mail:

We thank E. G. Shankland for technical assistance and M. J. Kushmerick for helpful discussions.

This research was supported by NIH grants AR41928 and AR45184.

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.