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An active strain formulation for orthotropic constitutive laws arising in cardiac mechanics modeling is introduced and studied. The passive mechanical properties of the tissue are described by the Holzapfel-Ogden relation. In the active strain formulation, the Euler-Lagrange equations for minimizing the total energy are written in terms of active and passive deformation factors, where the active part is assumed to depend, at the cell level, on the electrodynamics and on the specific orientation of the cardiac cells. The well-posedness of the linear system derived from a generic Newton iteration of the original problem is analyzed and different mechanical activation functions are considered. In addition, the active strain formulation is compared with the classical active stress formulation from both numerical and modeling perspectives. Taylor-Hood and MINI finite elements are employed to discretize the mechanical problem. The results of several numerical experiments show that the proposed formulation is mathematically consistent and is able to represent the main key features of the phenomenon, while allowing savings in computational costs.