Comparison of the effects of long-lasting static stretching and hypertrophy training on maximal strength, muscle thickness and flexibility in the plantar flexors

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2023 Aug;123(8):1773-1787. doi: 10.1007/s00421-023-05184-6. Epub 2023 Apr 8.


Maximal strength measured via maximal voluntary contraction is known as a key factor in competitive sports performance as well as injury risk reduction and rehabilitation. Maximal strength and hypertrophy are commonly trained by performing resistance training programs. However, literature shows that long-term, long-lasting static stretching interventions can also produce significant improvements in maximal voluntary contraction. The aim of this study is to compare increases in maximal voluntary contraction, muscle thickness and flexibility after 6 weeks of stretch training and conventional hypertrophy training. Sixty-nine (69) active participants (f = 30, m = 39; age 27.4 ± 4.4 years, height 175.8 ± 2.1 cm, and weight 79.5 ± 5.9 kg) were divided into three groups: IG1 stretched the plantar flexors continuously for one hour per day, IG2 performed hypertrophy training for the plantar flexors (5 × 10-12 reps, three days per week), while CG did not undergo any intervention. Maximal voluntary contraction, muscle thickness, pennation angle and flexibility were the dependent variables. The results of a series of two-way ANOVAs show significant interaction effects (p < 0.05) for maximal voluntary contraction (ƞ2 = 0.143-0.32, p < 0.006), muscle thickness (ƞ2 = 0.11-0.14, p < 0.021), pennation angle (ƞ2 = 0.002-0.08, p = 0.077-0.625) and flexibility (ƞ2 = 0.089-0.21, p < 0.046) for both the stretch and hypertrophy training group without significant differences (p = 0.37-0.99, d = 0.03-0.4) between both intervention groups. Thus, it can be hypothesized that mechanical tension plays a crucial role in improving maximal voluntary contraction and muscle thickness irrespective whether long-lasting stretching or hypertrophy training is used. Results show that for the calf muscle, the use of long-lasting stretching interventions can be deemed an alternative to conventional resistance training if the aim is to increase maximal voluntary contraction, muscle thickness and flexibility. However, the practical application seems to be strongly limited as a weekly stretching duration of up to 7 h a week is opposed by 3 × 15 min of common resistance training.

Keywords: Calf muscle; Maximum strength; Mechanical tension; Range of motion; Resistance training.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Hypertrophy
  • Leg
  • Muscle Strength / physiology
  • Muscle Stretching Exercises*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Young Adult