When examining studies that used a longer total duration of stretch (30–45 s), 25 studies were found reporting 31 findings. Fifteen studies examined power- or speed-dependent performance, with only two studies reporting a significant reduction in vertical jump height (−4.2% , −4.3% ), although the latter study failed to demonstrate appropriate control. In direct conflict with these findings, nine studies reported no significant reduction in vertical jump performance (18,31,32,42,57,62,86,103,120), with one study reporting a significant increase in jump performance (2.3% ). Furthermore, no significant effect was detected for 10- (62), 20- (97), or 30-m (18) sprint time, with a significant improvement in 20-m rolling sprint time reported (1.7% ), which reinforces the previous suggestion that short-duration stretch does not clearly influence maximal running performance. Also, no significant reductions were reported for throwing velocity (44), bench press and overhead throws (101), or leg extension power (114). Collectively, these data demonstrate no clear detrimental effect on performance in speed- and power-dependent tasks where stretch duration is 30–45 s (pooled estimate = −0.6% ± 3.1%; Fig. 1). This finding is especially important because the duration of stretch is reflective of normal preexercise routine practices (2,98) and the performance tasks examined are highly applicable to both clinical and athletic subjects.
Eleven studies examined the effects of 30–45 s of stretch on maximal strength, with equivocal findings being reported. Significant reductions were reported in handgrip strength (−7.8% , −6.7% ), concentric knee flexor MVC (−6.3% ), and isometric and concentric knee extensor MVC (−6.6% ). In contrast, three studies reported no significant effect on concentric knee extensor strength (9,121,122) following similar durations of stretch. Furthermore, no significant reductions were found in concentric plantar flexor MVC (1), chest press strength (9,74), or isometric knee flexor MVC (82). Thus, while some studies have reported significant performance decrements in lower limb muscle groups, this is not a common finding. Overall, the majority of the findings suggest that no detrimental effect on strength is likely when stretch duration is 30–45 s (pooled estimate = −4.2% ± 2.7%; Fig. 1).
When stretch durations were greater, the percentage of significant losses reported increased sharply after 60 s of stretch (61%) and then reached a plateau when stretch duration increased above 2 min, indicating a sigmoidal relationship (Fig. 2). This finding is congruent with previous dose–response studies (52,58,82,95,119). Clearly, the duration of stretch at which significant reductions are likely is approximately 60 s; however, longer durations (>2 min) did not further increase the likelihood of significant reductions. A linear relationship was evident in the average magnitude of reductions as the average reductions continued to increase with longer durations of stretch (Table 1).
Although most findings from studies using shorter static stretch durations indicated no significant effect, equivocal findings were reported in studies using longer durations (≥60 s). Accordingly, we examined whether stretch duration influenced results when studies were organized by muscle contraction mode (Table 1). Given that this reduced the sample size substantially, the four dose–response groups were merged into two (≤45 and ≥60 s). A similar proportion of studies reported significant reductions after ≥60 s stretch in concentric and isometric strength (67% and 76%, respectively); however, the size of the reductions was greater for isometric than for concentric (−8.9% and −5.2%, respectively; Table 1). The most interesting finding from this analysis was that only 6 of the 68 findings reported in studies examining the effect of contraction mode assessed changes in maximal eccentric strength (15,26,28,69,93,111) and all of these used stretch durations >60 s. Two studies reported significant force losses (−4.3%  and −9.7% ), whereas no change was reported in the remaining four studies that all used much longer stretch durations (3–9 min).
A final analysis was conducted to determine whether the equivocal reports could be explained further by separating the studies by muscle group. Most studies focused on lower limb strength, with few studies examining upper body strength; accordingly, studies measuring knee flexor, knee extensor, and plantar flexor strength were examined, and again, the dose–response groups were merged into two groups (≤45 and ≥60 s). Although similar findings were revealed across muscle groups for magnitude of loss (Table 1), the knee flexors (82%) seemed to be more regularly influenced by stretch compared with the knee extensors (64%) and plantar flexors (62%). This finding, in conjunction with the finding that the muscle contraction mode of the test exercise influenced the results, may partly explain the equivocal findings reported across the literature for longer-duration (≥60 s) stretches. However, although there is some evidence for a contraction mode– and muscle-specific effect, the lack of data does not allow firm conclusions to be drawn, and we cannot fully explain the equivocal findings reported for longer-duration stretches.
We used a systematic review methodology to remove potential sources of bias as far as possible, although this procedure does not guarantee the absence of bias. Analyses such as those performed in the present review may be influenced by publication bias (100) because studies, reporting nonsignificant effects of stretch, may have been less likely to be accepted for publication. However, the potential inclusion of these studies would not have changed the main conclusion that shorter-duration (≤45 s) stretching has no effect on force production. Examination of the methodological quality of the literature revealed that experimental study design was often poor, where 30% of the studies reported no control group or reliability analyses. This supports the contention of Young (116), who previously highlighted this problem. Many studies did not include, or did not clearly report, a test reliability analysis, which is a major concern because it reduces the validity of the findings. Data presented in many of the included studies were collected during both control (rest) and experimental (stretch) conditions, and statistical analyses were then performed on the data sets to determine the level of significance between conditions. One problem, however, is that statistics for reliability were rarely presented, so the potential exists for the magnitude of between-condition differences to have been within the limits of data variability, resulting from learning, motivation variability, fatigue, or some other external influence, and were not solely influenced by the stretch intervention. Nonetheless, several statistical methods to eliminate this problem, including comparison of mean tests (e.g., t-tests, ANOVA), intraclass correlation coefficients, and coefficients of variation (CV) to establish reliability from repeated testing during control conditions, were appropriately used by several researchers (39,106,121) and should provide an exemplar for future research. Regardless, and importantly, our analysis revealed that the removal of studies with the poorer design did not markedly affect the conclusions drawn from the review because a similar proportion of these studies reported significant versus nonsignificant results.
The present systematic review revealed clear evidence that the widely reported negative effects of stretch on maximal strength performance are not apparent after stretch durations (≤30 s) (52,58,95) that are commonly performed in a preexercise routine (2,98), although there are a limited number of studies imposing this stretch duration. Nonetheless, equivocal results were found when durations increased to 30–45 s in knee extensor (9,95,121,122) and knee flexor MVC tests (82,109). Significant reductions were found in handgrip strength (58,102), but no change was found in plantar flexor MVC (1) or chest press one-repetition maximum (9,74). Examination of the literature revealed that, while some studies have reported significant losses in lower limb muscle groups, others did not. Overall, 50% of the findings indicated that no detrimental effect on strength was likely when stretch duration was 30–45 s, with the pooled estimate of the changes (−4.2% ± 2.7%) well within the normal variability for maximum voluntary performance.
There was also clear evidence that stretch did not affect higher-speed force production when stretch durations were ≤45 s. Only two studies reported significant decreases in vertical jump height (39,51), with the latter failing to use an appropriate control. In direct conflict were 13 studies using similar durations of stretch that reported no significant reduction in jump performance (18,19,31,32,42,50,57,62,75,76,86,103,120). Similar patterns were evident in sprint performance, where again only one study reported a significant reduction (38), whereas four studies reported no significant reduction (8,18,62,97), and Little and Williams (62) reported an increase in sprint performance. Interestingly, Fletcher and Jones (38) did not use a control condition but determined reliability with intraclass correlation coefficient and CV calculations. The CV was calculated at 1.7%, which was greater than the significant difference reported; SEM was also similar in size to the reduction reported, and the effect size calculated from the reduction was small. Although the study design and the implementation of statistics were correct, the interpretation of their data and the practical importance of their findings are debatable. Only 2 studies that demonstrated appropriate control or reliability reported a significant reduction in performance, as opposed to 15 studies that reported no difference in the same tasks and a further 5 studies reporting no difference in performance in other speed or power tests (44,71,81,101,114). Collectively, these data overwhelmingly indicate that there is no detrimental effect of short-duration static muscle stretch on speed- or power-dependent performance, with the pooled estimate of the change calculated at −0.5% ± 2.8%.
The lack of consensus regarding the negative effects of static stretching is likely to be partly attributable to differences in the durations of stretch imposed across studies. Short-duration stretching tends not to result in significant impairments, whereas longer stretch duration more likely does, with the percentage of significant findings increasing concurrently with stretch duration (<30 s = 14%; 30–45 s = 22%; 1–2 min = 61%; >2 min = 63%). This is in agreement with several recent studies (52,58,82,90,95,119) that specifically examined the dose–response effect of static muscle stretch on active force production. For example, Ogura et al. (82) reported that 30 s of stretch did not reduce isometric knee flexor strength but that 60 s of stretch induced significant impairment, and Knudson and Noffal (58) found that repeated 10-s stretches did not reduce handgrip strength compared with control until 40 s of total stretch was accumulated. Similarly, 5, 15, and 20 s of static stretch did not significantly reduce isometric plantar flexor force, whereas 60 s of stretch did (52); the size of the force impairment was also significantly correlated with the stretch duration, clearly highlighting the importance of stretch duration in the magnitude of force loss. Those studies, and other evidence reported in the present review, indicate that a clear dose–response effect exists, with decrements becoming more likely for stretch durations ≥60 s but not continuing to increase beyond 2 min. Thus, the dose–response relationship seems to be sigmoidal, with turning points at approximately 60 s and 2 min (Fig. 2).
Interestingly, comparable dose–response trends were evident across tasks involving largely strength-, power-, or speed-dependent movements, which suggest that the effects of stretch duration are task independent. However, the number (percentage) of significant findings and the magnitude of the performance decrement were larger for strength-based than power- and speed-based tasks. Given that power- and speed-dependent tasks are more typically performed in activities of daily living or athletic pursuits than the laboratory-based slow-speed strength tests, these findings perhaps have more practical relevance. Regardless, the finding that short-duration stretches (≤45 s) did not seem to impair muscle force production is of even greater practical importance. This important finding suggests that static muscle stretching can be safely used in a preexercise routine without compromising physical performance, whereas longer durations (≥60 s) are more likely to be problematic. Although most short-duration studies (≤45 s) revealed no significant change, significant improvements were reported in jumping (71,75), cycling (81), and sprinting (62) performances, which suggest that improvements are possible in some tasks. Furthermore, significant improvements in ROM and reduced musculotendinous stiffness after short-duration stretches (5–30 s) have also been reported (6,52), which may reduce muscle strain injury risk. Thus, the inclusion of short-duration preperformance stretching may be deemed useful by some practitioners, although more research is needed to clarify the effects of short-duration static stretching.
Although a similar influence was seen across muscle groups (lower limb) and contraction modes, no studies exist detailing the effects of moderate-duration stretches (≤45 s) on eccentric strength. This is important not only for its physical performance implications but also for its effect on injury risk. Muscle strength has been cited as a major influencing factor within the etiology of muscle strain injury (83), and with most muscle strain injuries suggested to occur within normal ROM during eccentric loading, the ability of the muscle to withstand eccentric loading may be crucial to injury risk. Given the equivocal data reported from much longer durations of stretch (e.g., >60 s) on eccentric strength and that there are presently no data describing the effects of shorter, more practically relevant, stretch durations (≤45 s), a clear research focus is needed to fully explore the influence of stretch on the muscle’s ability to withstand eccentric loading.
Static muscle stretches totaling <45 s can be used in preexercise routines without risk of significant decreases in strength-, power-, or speed-dependent task performances. Longer stretch durations (e.g., ≥60 s) are more likely to cause a small or moderate reduction in performance. Interestingly, the effect of stretch on performances across a range of muscle contraction modes, muscle groups, and movement speeds was similar. Importantly, no studies exist detailing the effects of moderate-duration stretches (≤45 s) on eccentric strength, and there is little evidence for an effect after longer periods of stretch. This is important because of the purported influence of eccentric strength on both movement performance and injury risk. Several avenues of further research exist, including an examination of the effects of stretch on upper body musculature and on eccentric movement performance, and more data are required to determine the effect of short-duration stretches (≤30 s) to more clearly delineate the magnitude of effect. A comprehensive review of the existing literature examining the influence of other forms of muscle stretching (dynamic, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, and ballistic) should also be performed because the effects of different stretching modalities are likely to be different. Finally, no attempt was made in the present review to determine whether the number of stretches performed, in addition to the total duration of stretch, is a factor influencing the effects of stretch, so future reviews are required to clarify whether it is a factor influencing the stretch-induced loss of force.
A.D.K. performed the literature search, selected articles for exclusion and inclusion, assessed the risk of bias, extracted the data, and performed the analysis. A.J.B. verified a percentage of articles selected for exclusion, verified all articles selected for inclusion, verified the extracted data, and assessed the risk of bias. Both authors were involved in the study design, contributed to the writing and revision of the manuscript, and are able to take responsibility for its accuracy.
No funding was received for this work.
The results of the present study do not constitute endorsement by the American College of Sports Medicine.
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