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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 - p 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.