A method is described for investigating the contractile properties of the dorsiflexor muscles of the ankle. With the joint in the midposition the tibialis anterior was found to contribute less than half of the maximum voluntary torque, the remainder presumably being provided by the long extensors of the toes. The mean contraction and half-relaxation times of tibialis anterior muscles in healthy young men were 81.2 +/- 7.4 (SD) ms and 83.6 +/- 17.2 ms, respectively. When the tibialis anterior was stretched, the twitch became slower and more complete fusion of the contractions occurred during tetanic stimulation at low frequencies. Stimulation of tibialis anterior at 30 and 40 Hz disclosed that the optimum length of the muscle corresponded to about 10 degrees of plantarflexion. Maximum voluntary torque was also developed at 10 degrees of plantarflexion and decreased sharply as the ankle was dorsiflex beyond 5 degrees. The position assumed by the ankle joint at rest depended on whether the subject was sitting, standing, or lying, but was always greater, in the plantarflexed direction, than the "optimum" position for torque development. At low rates of stimulation the torque continued to increase throughout the full range of plantarflexion, probably because of the elasticity of the tendon. During maximum effort motoneuronal excitability did not appear to be influenced significantly by changes in joint angle.