Endurance time of a submaximal sustained contraction is longer when the muscle is fatigued in a shortened position. The aim of the present study was to compare central and peripheral mechanisms of fatigue after an isometric contraction of the knee extensor muscles performed at 20% maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) at two knee angles (35 degrees , short length vs. 75 degrees , long length; 0 degrees = full extension) until exhaustion. Eleven men (24 +/- 4 yr) attended two experimental randomized sessions. Endurance time was greater at 35 degrees compared with 75 degrees (974 +/- 457 vs. 398 +/- 144 s; P < 0.001) despite a similar reduction in knee extensor MVC (-28.4 +/- 16.0%, P < 0.001 vs. -27.6 +/- 18.8%, P < 0.001, respectively). Voluntary activation level was similarly depressed after the fatiguing contraction performed at the two muscle lengths (-19 +/- 16.7% at 35 degrees , P < 0.01 vs. -13.7 +/- 14.5% at 75 degrees , P < 0.01). After the fatiguing contraction, peak twitch potentiation was observed only at the short length (+31.8 +/- 17.6% at 35 degrees , P < 0.01 vs. +6.4 +/- 21.3% at 75 degrees , P > 0.05), whereas M-wave properties were similarly altered for the two angles. These results suggest that 1) central fatigue at task failure for a sustained isometric contraction was not dependent on the muscle length, and 2) the longer endurance time of a sustained isometric contraction performed at a shortened length is related to potentiation. It is suggested that the greater endurance time of a sustained isometric contraction observed at 35 degrees is related to the occurrence of potentiation at this short length, because central fatigue is similar at task failure for both tasks.