AQA A Level Biology

Revision Notes

6.3.1 Muscle Pairs

Muscle Pairs

  • The effective movement of the human body requires both muscle and an incompressible skeleton
    • This is because muscles will only produce effective movement if they pull on a structure that does not shorten or bend – bone
  • There are over 600 skeletal muscles in the human body
  • Muscles are effectors, stimulated by nerve impulses from motor neurones
  • The muscular system is complex, with multiple muscles crossing over each other in multiple directions
  • Lengths of strong connective tissue called tendons, connect muscles to bones
    • They are flexible but do not stretch when a muscle is contracting and pulling on a bone
    • There are a few muscles with very long tendons and also a few that are directly attached to the bone

Antagonistic muscle action

  • Muscles are only capable of contracting or pulling, they cannot push
  • As a result of this limitation muscles generally operate in pairs
  • A muscle pulls in one direction at a joint and the other muscle pulls in the opposite direction
    • This is described as antagonistic muscle action
  • An example of this can be seen in the bicep and tricep of the arm
  • To raise the lower arm
    • The bicep contracts and the tricep relaxes
    • As the bone can’t be stretched the arm flexes around the joint
    • This brings the tricep into its full length so that it can contract again
  • To lower the lower arm
    • The tricep contracts and bicep relaxes
    • As the bone can’t be stretched the arm flexes around the joint

Muscle pair, downloadable AS & A Level Biology revision notes

The two muscles work together by pulling in opposite directions

  • Muscles maintain posture by antagonistic muscles both contracting at joints to keep the joint at a certain angle
    • This is known as isometric contraction – a muscle contraction without motion
  • Whenever lifting heavy objects the contraction process is more complicated with more muscles involved
    • For example, multiple muscles are involved in enabling the hand to grip, allowing the wrist to rotate and stabilising the shoulder
    • This is a complex process of coordination involving the brain

Author: Lára

Lára graduated from Oxford University in Biological Sciences and has now been a science tutor working in the UK for several years. Lára has a particular interest in the area of infectious disease and epidemiology, and enjoys creating original educational materials that develop confidence and facilitate learning.
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