How do deficits in neuronal growth, aging or synaptic function affect the final, mechanical output of a single muscle twitch? We address this in vivo (indeed in situ) with a novel ergometer that records the output of a large specialised muscle, the Drosophila jump muscle. Here, we describe in detail the ergometer, its construction and use. We evaluated the ergometer by showing that adult fly jump muscle output varies little between 3 h and 7 days; but newly eclosed flies produce only 65%. In a mutant with little octopamine (Tβh), jump muscle performance is reduced by 28%. The initial responses of synaptic growth mutants (highwire and spinster) do not differ from wild type, as expected on the homeostatic hypothesis. However, responses in highwire mutations gradually decline following repeated stimuli, suggesting physiological as well as anatomical abnormalities. We conclude that the assay is robust, sensitive and reliable with a good throughput.