What are the different shapes of muscle? There are a number of different muscle shapes within the human body including circular, convergent, parallel, pennate and fusiform. Here we explain where they are found in the body and what their function or purpose is.

different shapes of muscle

Circular Muscles

These muscles appear circular in shape and are normally sphincter muscles which surround an opening such as the mouth, surrounded by Obicularis Oris and Obicularis Oculi surrounding the eyes

Convergent Muscles

These are muscles where the origin (the attachment to a fixed bone, usually the proximal attachment) is wider than the point of insertion. This fibre arrangement allows for maximum force production. An example is Pectoralis Major. Convergent muscles are also sometimes known as triangular muscles.

Parallel Muscles

Parallel muscles have fibres which, as the name suggests, run parallel to each other and are sometimes called strap muscles.

They are normally long muscles which cause large movements, are not very strong but have good endurance. Examples include Sartorius and Sternocleidomastoid. Some textbooks include Fusiform muscles in the parallel group.

Pennate Muscles

Pennate muscles have a large number of muscle fibres per unit and so are very strong, but tire easily. They can be divided into:

  • Unipennate: These muscles have their fibres arranged to insert in a diagonal direction onto the tendon, which allows great strength. Examples include the Lumbricals (deep hand muscles) and Extensor Digitorum Longus (wrist and finger extensor)
  • Bipennate: Bipennate muscles have two rows of muscle fibres, facing in opposite diagonal directions,with a central tendon, like a feather. This allows even greater power but less range of motion. An example is the Rectus Femoris
  • Multipennate: As the name suggests Multipennate muscles have multiple rows of diagonal fibres, with a central tendon which branches into two or more tendons. An example is the Deltoid muscle which has three sections, anterior, posterior and middle.

Fusiform Muscles

Sometimes included in the parallel muscle group, these muscles are more spindle shaped, with the muscle belly being wider than the origin and insertion. Examples are Biceps Brachii and Psoas major


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