Stretch training induces unequal adaptation in muscle fascicles and thickness in medial and lateral gastrocnemii

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2017 Dec;27(12):1597-1604. doi: 10.1111/sms.12822. Epub 2017 Jan 30.


This study compared adaptations in fascicle lengths, pennation angles, and muscle thickness of the lateral and medial gastrocnemii in response to 6 weeks of stretch training. The nondominant plantar flexors of 11 males were stretched five times per week for 6 weeks and compared with the contralateral leg and a nonstretched control group of 10 males. During stretch training, instantaneous electromyography was utilized to ensure passive muscle stretch. At baseline, week three, week six and 1 week after the conclusion of stretch training, ultrasound was used to measure fascicle lengths, pennation angles, muscle thickness of the lateral gastrocnemius and medial gastrocnemius, and Achilles tendon thickness and length. Plantar flexion torque was measured, and voluntary activation was assessed. Muscle thickness increased 5.6% after 6 weeks of stretch training (P=.009). The fascicles in the lateral gastrocnemius lengthened to a greater extent than the medial. Overall, fascicles lengthened 25% (P<.001) in the muscle tendon junction and 5.1% (P<.001) in the muscle belly. Pennation angles were unchanged in the medial gastrocnemius but decreased in the lateral gastrocnemius 7.1% (P=.02). There was no change in maximal voluntary contraction, voluntary activation, tendon length, or thickness. This study demonstrates that stretch training is a viable modality to alter muscle architecture of the human gastrocnemius through lengthening of muscle fascicles, decreasing pennation angles, and increasing muscle thickness, albeit adaptations are unequal between the lateral and medial heads.

Keywords: hypertrophy; muscle architecture; pennation angle; triceps surae; ultrasound.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Achilles Tendon / diagnostic imaging
  • Achilles Tendon / physiology
  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adult
  • Ankle
  • Electromyography
  • Foot
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle Stretching Exercises*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / diagnostic imaging
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Torque
  • Ultrasonography
  • Young Adult