Effect of static stretch training on neural and mechanical properties of the human plantar-flexor muscles

Muscle Nerve. 2004 Feb;29(2):248-55. doi: 10.1002/mus.10549.


To determine the contributions of neural and mechanical mechanisms to the limits in the range of motion (ROM) about a joint, we studied the effects of 30 sessions of static stretch training on the characteristics of the plantar-flexor muscles in 12 subjects. Changes in the maximal ankle dorsiflexion and the torque produced during passive stretching at various ankle angles, as well as maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) and electrically induced contractions, were recorded after 10, 20, and 30 sessions, and 1 month after the end of the training program. Reflex activities were tested by recording the Hoffmann reflex (H reflex) and tendon reflex (T reflex) in the soleus muscle. Training caused a 30.8% (P < 0.01) increase in the maximal ankle dorsiflexion. This improved flexibility was associated (r(2) = 0.88; P < 0.001) with a decrease in muscle passive stiffness and, after the first 10 sessions only, with a small increase in passive torque at maximal dorsiflexion. Furthermore, both the H- and T-reflex amplitudes were reduced after training, especially the latter (-36% vs. -14%; P < 0.05). The MVC torque and the maximal rate of torque development were not affected by training. Although the changes in flexibility and passive stiffness were partially maintained 1 month after the end of the training program, reflex activities had already returned to control levels. It is concluded that the increased flexibility results mainly from reduced passive stiffness of the muscle-tendon unit and tonic reflex activity. The underlying neural and mechanical adaptation mechanisms, however, showed different time courses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Ankle / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Foot / physiology*
  • H-Reflex / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Reflex, Stretch / physiology*