Strength training is as effective as stretching for improving range of motion: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Review written by Dr Teddy Willsey info

Key Points

  1. Optimizing muscle extensibility and joint range of motion is a goal across many rehabilitation and exercise programs.
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Optimizing joint and muscle range of motion (ROM) seems to be a common goal across nearly all populations, regardless of age, physical endeavor, or injury history. Improvements in ROM take place through a number of physiological, structural, and neurological adaptations, including increased tolerance to stretch, augmented fascicle length, changes in pennation angle, and reduced tonic reflex activity (1, 2, 3).

Studies comparing the effects of strength training (ST) versus stretching on ROM present conflicting evidence and leave many questions unanswered. Reduced ROM and muscle weakness can be observed together in many common musculoskeletal pathologies, begging the question: should patients spend more time stretching, or strengthening?

While it is clear that ST has a greater influence on strength, balance, and function, it is not yet known whether it can also help to improve ROM to the same degree as stretching (4). The aim of this paper was to compare the effects of ST versus stretching on ROM in a heterogenous group of participants across a multitude of studies.

Improvements in ROM take place through a number of physiological, structural, and neurological adaptations.
Progressive strength training through a gradually increasing range of motion may result in a return to prior level of function more expediently than stretching alone.


The authors performed a systematic review and meta-analysis using the PRISMA method. Following a rigorous selection process, the authors were able to identify 11 articles with a total of 452 participants eligible for the review. The articles selected reported on

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