In vitro, different techniques are used to study the smooth muscle cells' calcium dynamics and contraction/relaxation mechanisms on arteries. Most experimental studies use either an isometric or an isobaric setup. However, in vivo, a blood vessel is neither isobaric nor isometric nor isotonic, as it is continuously submitted to intraluminal pressure variations arising from heart beat. We use a theoretical model of the smooth muscle calcium and arterial radius dynamics to determine whether results may be considerably different depending on the experimental conditions (isometric, isobaric, isotonic, or cyclic pressure variations). We show that isobaric conditions appear to be more realistic than isometric or isotonic situations, as the calcium dynamics is similar under cyclic intraluminal pressure variations (in vivo-like situation) and under a constant pressure (isobaric situation). The arterial contraction is less pronounced in isotonic than in isobaric conditions, and the vasoconstrictor sensitivity higher in isometric than isobaric or isotonic conditions, in agreement with experimental observations. Interestingly, the model predicts that isometric conditions may generate artifacts like the coexistence of multiple stable states. We have verified this model prediction experimentally using rat mesenteric arteries mounted on a wire myograph and stimulated with phenylephrine. © 2008 by the Biophysical Society.