Introduction: The benefits of preexercise muscle stretching have been recently questioned after reports of significant poststretch reductions in force and power production. However, methodological issues and equivocal findings have prevented a clear consensus being reached. As no detailed systematic review exists, the literature describing responses to acute static muscle stretch was comprehensively examined.
Methods: MEDLINE, ScienceDirect, SPORTDiscus, and Zetoc were searched with recursive reference checking. Selection criteria included randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials and intervention-based trials published in peer-reviewed scientific journals examining the effect of an acute static stretch intervention on maximal muscular performance.
Results: Searches revealed 4559 possible articles; 106 met the inclusion criteria. Study design was often poor because 30% of studies failed to provide appropriate reliability statistics. Clear evidence exists indicating that short-duration acute static stretch (<30 s) has no detrimental effect (pooled estimate = -1.1%), with overwhelming evidence that stretch durations of 30-45 s also imparted no significant effect (pooled estimate = -1.9%). A sigmoidal dose-response effect was evident between stretch duration and both the likelihood and magnitude of significant decrements, with a significant reduction likely to occur with stretches ≥ 60 s. This strong evidence for a dose-response effect was independent of performance task, contraction mode, or muscle group. Studies have only examined changes in eccentric strength when the stretch durations were >60 s, with limited evidence for an effect on eccentric strength.
Conclusions: The detrimental effects of static stretch are mainly limited to longer durations (≥ 60 s), which may not be typically used during preexercise routines in clinical, healthy, or athletic populations. Shorter durations of stretch (<60 s) can be performed in a preexercise routine without compromising maximal muscle performance.