Muscle architecture is an important aspect of muscle functioning. Hence, geometry and material properties of muscle have great influence on the force–length characteristics of muscle. We compared experimental results for the gastrocnemius medialis muscle (GM) of the rat to model results of simple geometric models such as a planimetric model and three-dimensional versions of this model. The capabilities of such models to adequately calculate muscle geometry and force–length characteristics were investigated. The planimetric model with elastic aponeurosis predicted GM muscle geometry well: maximal differences are 6, 1, 4 and 6% for fiber length, aponeurosis length, fiber angle and aponeurosis angle respectively. A slanted cylinder model with circular fiber cross-section did not predict muscle geometry as well as the planimetric model, whereas the geometry results of a second slanted cylinder model were identical to the planimetric model. It is concluded that the planimetric model is capable of adequately calculating the muscle geometry over the muscle length range studied. However, for modelling of force–length characteristics more complex models are needed, as none of the models yielded results sufficiently close to experimental data. Modelled force–length characteristics showed an overestimation of muscle optimum length by 2 mm with respect to experimental data, and the force at the ascending limb of the length force curve was underestimated. The models presented neglect important aspects such as non-linear geometry of muscle, certain passive material properties and mechanical interactions of fibers. These aspects may be responsible for shortcomings in the modelling. It is argued that, considering the inability to adequately model muscle length–force characteristics for an isolated maximally activated (in situ) muscle, it is to be expected that prediction will fail for muscle properties in conditions of complex movement with many interacting factors. Therefore, modelling goals should be limited to the heuristic domain rather than expect to be able to predict or even approach medical or biological reality. However, the increased understanding about muscular mechanisms obtained from heuristic use of such simple models may very well be used in creating progress in, for example, clinical applications.
- Muscle geometry