The purposes of this study were to create a three-dimensional representation of strain during isometric contraction in vivo and to interpret it with respect to the muscle fiber direction. Diffusion tensor MRI was used to measure the muscle fiber direction of the tibialis anterior (TA) muscle of seven healthy volunteers. Spatial-tagging MRI was used to measure linear strains in six directions during separate 50% maximal isometric contractions of the TA. The strain tensor (E) was computed in the TA's deep and superficial compartments and compared with the respective diffusion tensors. Diagonalization of E revealed a planar strain pattern, with one nonzero negative strain (ε(N)) and one nonzero positive strain (ε(P)); both strains were larger in magnitude (P < 0.05) in the deep compartment [ε(N) = -40.4 ± 4.3%, ε(P) = 35.1 ± 3.5% (means ± SE)] than in the superficial compartment (ε(N) = -24.3 ± 3.9%, ε(P) = 6.3 ± 4.9%). The principal shortening direction deviated from the fiber direction by 24.0 ± 1.3° and 39.8 ± 6.1° in the deep and superficial compartments, respectively (P < 0.05, deep vs. superficial). The deviation of the shortening direction from the fiber direction was due primarily to the lower angle of elevation of the shortening direction over the axial plane than that of the fiber direction. It is concluded that three-dimensional analyses of strain interpreted with respect to the fiber architecture are necessary to characterize skeletal muscle contraction in vivo. The deviation of the principal shortening direction from the fiber direction may relate to intramuscle variations in fiber length and pennation angle.