A modified test of postextrasystolic potentiation achieved with a brief episode of rapid pacing followed by a 6-second pause (RPP maneuver) was used to evoke maximal force in isolated intact ferret right ventricular papillary muscles. Maximal RPP tensions were examined under length-clamped conditions and compared with the steady-state forces obtained when further increases in [Ca2+]0, did not further increase force and to the tensions recorded at the point of saturation of force when similarly length-clamped muscles were subjected to caffeine-induced tetanization. The results show that the calculated maximal twitch tension achieved with RPP is comparable to the 25-35 g/mm2 observed in intact single skeletal muscle fibers. The study also shows that the beat-to-beat decay of the potentiated contraction is exponential. While the amount of the constant fractional beat-to-beat decay is a function of [Ca2+]0, it is not influenced by length. During the decay of potentiation, the ratio of the potentiation of any beat divided by that of the previous beat is a constant, called (x). With certain assumptions, it is shown that (x) is a measure of the fraction of activator calcium taken up by the sarcoplasmic reticulum in each beat and, in the steady state, the fraction of activator calcium that comes from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. The (x) amounted to 33%, 50%, and 65% when [Ca2+]0 was 1.25, 2.50, and 5.0 mM, respectively. Thus, at 1.25 mM [Ca2+]0, some two thirds of the total calcium required to activate the myofilaments comes from the extracellular compartment during excitation and only one third is contributed via release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. In the region of optimal myofilament overlap, RPP force-length curves are remarkably shallow and almost indistinguishable from the sarcomere length-tension relation observed in skinned single cardiac cells. Tetanus plateau tensions are significantly smaller than RPP forces at any length, and the slope of the tetanus force-length curves is greater than that obtained with RPP. Thus, and by exclusion, we also suggest that caffeine may exert significant downstream inhibitory effects.