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  • Peta Glaister

Should eccentric progressive overload stretching replace all static stretching?

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

Originally posted on the Evolutio blog.

Located in Richmond, Evolutio is a world class supplier of fine physiotherapy, remedial massage and elite rehab.

Six figures standing next to a fence, facing away with their left legs on the top rail of the fence, using it as a barre to stretch

The jury is still out on static stretching (except this author, who quit the jury room a while ago to go to the pub), but a lot of people are very attached to it so let’s have a look.

Muscles are elastic, so if you reach for your toes for 30 seconds, you’ll get a little bit closer to them. Yay #mobilitygainz! But tomorrow/next week/next year you’ll reach again and they’ll be just as far away… So what have you really gained?

Your muscles are changing constantly depending on what you do. So if you go “hey I need you to lengthen out just for this minute”, they will. Problems arise when you’re also telling them “hey we mostly just need to sit in this chair” or “if we quarter-rep this bench press I can get an extra plate on.”

If you spend 1% of your time passively trying to get into positions that you want, but that you don’t actively load, train or use for the other 99%, is it really worth your muscles’ time to change?

Why the Hating on Static Stretching?

- It’s is boring and it takes too long

OK “boring” is subjective, but if the minimum hold for a stretch is 30-120 seconds, and you want to mobilise your ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, neck and arms in several planes of motion each... And you’ll have to do it every day for weeks or months to see results… And you’ll start losing your gains immediately if you slack off… I’ll be at the pub.

- It’s not as effective as we’ve been lead to believe.

Not that it’s totally ineffective, just that there may be better alternatives. This is often where the gymnasts-and-dancers-stretch-heaps-and-they’re-super-flexy argument comes up. Yes, many flexible people spend a lot of time stretching - but they also move into, train and strengthen that entire range of movement. So can we expect the same results on half of their method?

- It doesn’t do what we’ve been lead to believe (change muscle length)

Stretching seems to work on a neuromuscular level – it increases the central nervous system’s tolerance to the stretch and decreases its perception of positions as “dangerous”. But it does not create plastic change in muscle tissue, only elastic. Meaning the muscle will always return to its resting length. Oh wait sorry, some evidence of length growth in muscle fibres has been found in studies … of protocols with holds of TWENTY TO THIRTY MINUTES.