At the University of Twente a U-shaped spring has been used to investigate the mechanical properties of a large variety of superconducting tapes and wires. Several mechanisms are responsible for the degradation of critical current as a function of applied strain. A change in its intrinsic parameters causes a reversible critical current dependence in Nb3Sn. The critical current reaches a maximum at a wire-dependent tensile strain level, and decreases when this tensile strain is either released or further increased. In Bi-based tapes the critical current is virtually insensitive to tensile strain up to a sample-dependent irreversible strain limit. When this limit is exceeded, the critical current decreases steeply and irreversibly. This behaviour is attributed to microstructural damage to the filaments. This cracking of the filaments is verified by a magneto-optical strain experiment. Recent experiments suggest that in MgB2 the degradation of critical current is caused by a change in intrinsic properties and damage to the microstructure. Magneto-optical imaging can be used to investigate the influence of applied strain on the microstructure of MgB2, as is done successfully with Bi-based tapes. In all these conductors the thermal precompression of the filaments plays an important role. In Nb3Sn it determines the position of the maximum and in Bi-based and MgB2 conductors it is closely related to the irreversible strain limit.