Unaccustomed eccentric exercise, in which a muscle is lengthened while generating tension, is well known to cause injury and pain. A rapid training effect has been demonstrated in a number of eccentric exercises. The mechanism for both the damage and the training has been unknown. Morgan proposed that the damage is caused by sarcomere length instabilities during operation on the descending limb of the sarcomere length-tension curve and that the training effect is an increase in the number of sarcomeres connected in series in a muscle fiber, thus avoiding the descending limb (Biophys. J. 57: 209–221, 1990). We tested this proposal by exercising rats on a treadmill set at either an incline or a decline of 16 degrees, an exercise that has previously been shown to cause damage in untrained rats and a training effect. The vastus intermedius muscles were fixed and were digested in acid, and the fiber and sarcomere lengths of representative fibers were measured. From these measurements, the mean number of sarcomeres per fiber was found for the different training regimes. A clear and repeatable difference was found, supporting Morgan's prediction of more sarcomeres after decline running, although with some differences in response that depended on the age of the rats.
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