1. The effect of muscle length on the development of muscle pain and fatigue has been studied.
2. Eight normal young adults performed maximal eccentric contractions of the elbow flexors. The muscles of one arm were exercised at short length, and the contralateral muscle at long length. Each contraction lasted approximately 1 s, and was repeated once every 10 s for 30 min.
3. Muscle strength and frequency-force characteristics were measured from isometric contractions before, immediately after and at 24 h intervals for the next 4 days. Muscle tenderness was assessed daily.
4. The muscle strength was reduced by approximately 10% by exercise at short length, and by 30% by exercise at long length.
5. The 20:100 ratio (force generated by stimulation at 20 Hz/force generated at 100 Hz) fell by 30% after exercise at short length and had recovered after 24 h. Exercise at long length reduced this ratio by 65% and the muscles had not fully recovered 4 days later.
6. Muscle pain developed after both exercise regimens, but was slightly worse after that at long length.
7. It is concluded that there is a length-dependent component in the development of pain and fatigue after eccentric exercise, which had previously been thought to be caused solely by high force generation.