School of Medical and Health Sciences
Open access funding provided by University of Klagenfurt
Increasing muscle strength and cross-sectional area is of crucial importance to improve or maintain physical function in musculoskeletal rehabilitation and sports performance. Decreases in muscular performance are experienced in phases of reduced physical activity or immobilization. These decrements highlight the need for alternative, easily accessible training regimens for a sedentary population to improve rehabilitation and injury prevention routines. Commonly, muscle hypertrophy and strength increases are associated with resistance training, typically performed in a training facility. Mechanical tension, which is usually induced with resistance machines and devices, is known to be an important factor that stimulates the underlying signaling pathways to enhance protein synthesis. Findings from animal studies suggest an alternative means to induce mechanical tension to enhance protein synthesis, and therefore muscle hypertrophy by inducing high-volume stretching. Thus, this narrative review discusses mechanical tension-induced physiological adaptations and their impact on muscle hypertrophy and strength gains. Furthermore, research addressing stretch-induced hypertrophy is critically analyzed. Derived from animal research, the stretching literature exploring the impact of static stretching on morphological and functional adaptations was reviewed and critically discussed. No studies have investigated the underlying physiological mechanisms in humans yet, and thus the underlying mechanisms remain speculative and must be discussed in the light of animal research. However, studies that reported functional and morphological increases in humans commonly used stretching durations of > 30 min per session of the plantar flexors, indicating the importance of high stretching volume, if the aim is to increase muscle mass and maximum strength. Therefore, the practical applicability seems limited to settings without access to resistance training (e.g., in an immobilized state at the start of rehabilitation), as resistance training seems to be more time efficient. Nevertheless, further research is needed to generate evidence in different human populations (athletes, sedentary individuals, and rehabilitation patients) and to quantify stretching intensity.
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