The control mechanism of glycogenolysis by phosphorylase a in contracting muscle has been investigated. The quadriceps femoris muscles of six subjects were intermittently stimulated at 15 and 50 Hz. The stimulation lasted 9.6 s and was performed twice at 15 Hz and once at 50 Hz. Epinephrine was infused continuously during the experiment. The force generation and ATP turnover rate were nearly twofold higher at 50 Hz than at 15 Hz. Calculated mean Pi was 5.7 and 10.0 mM during the two 15-Hz stimulations and 8.1 mM during the 50-Hz stimulation. Phosphorylase a varied between 85.5 and 91.5% without significant differences between periods. However, the rate of glycogenolysis was twofold higher during the stimulation at 50 Hz than it was at 15 Hz (P less than 0.05) and was related to the ATP turnover rate (r = 0.992). These results demonstrate that rapid glycogen breakdown during muscle contraction cannot be solely explained by transformation of phosphorylase b to a and increased Pi concentration. The contraction intensity may determine the glycogenolytic rate through a transient increase in free AMP level related to the ATP turnover rate.