A mechanism for altered flexibility in human skeletal muscle

J Physiol. 1996 Nov 15;497 ( Pt 1)(Pt 1):291-8. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1996.sp021768.


1. We investigated the effect of a long-term stretching regimen on the tissue properties and stretch tolerance of human skeletal muscle. 2. Resistance to stretch was measured as torque (in N m) offered by the hamstring muscle group during passive knee extension while electromyographic (EMG) activity, knee joint angle and velocity were continuously monitored during a standardized stretch manoeuvre. Seven healthy subjects were tested before and after a 3 week training period using two separate protocols. Protocol 1 consisted of a slow stretch at 0.087 rad s-1 to a predetermined angle followed by a 90 s holding phase. Subjects were brought to the same angle before and after the training period. Protocol 2 was a similar stretch, but continued to the point of pain. 3. During protocol 1 the torque rose during the stretch and then declined during the holding phase. EMG activity was small and did not change significantly during the protocol. No significant differences in stiffness, energy and peak torque about the knee joint were seen as a result of the training. During protocol 2 the angle to which the knee could be extended was significantly increased as a result of the training. This was accompanied by a comparable increase in peak torque and energy. EMG activity was small and not affected by training. 4. It is concluded that reflex EMG activity does not limit the range of movement during slow stretches and that the increased range of motion achieved from training is a consequence of increased stretch tolerance on the part of the subject rather than a change in the mechanical or viscoelastic properties of the muscle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Reflex, Stretch / physiology*