Active Isolated Stretching Can Increase Flexibility and Prevent Injuries

Active isolated stretching (AIS) is an effective method of dynamic stretching developed over 40 years ago by Aaron Mattes. It is safer and more effective than traditional or static stretching as the muscle is only stretched when it is maximally relaxed. Evidence indicates that only a relaxed muscle can be stretched effectively. 

With static stretching, the stretch is held for approximately 20-30 seconds. Holding a stretch for more than 3 seconds can result in a self-protective reaction by the nervous system which contracts the targeted muscle and ultimately defeats the purpose of stretching. Also, studies have determined that static stretching before running doesn't prevent injuries and it can also cause runners to become less efficient.

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Two Seconds or Less!

Active Isolated Stretching

When practicing active isolated stretching, the stretch is held for a maximum of 2 seconds to prevent the contracting defensive reaction from occurring. AIS stretches are designed to contract opposing muscles to allow targeted muscles to relax and stretch, i.e. quads are contracted to stretch hamstrings.

Active Isolated Stretching Stretches The Fascia

One of the reasons that AIS is so effective is because it works with the body's natural movements to stretch the fascia. The fascia is a dense layer of tissue that encases our muscles, organs, nerves, bones, joints, veins and blood vessels. It supports and protects our entire body from head to toe with its uninterrupted web of connective tissue.

As fascia covers the entire body, we sometimes feel pain in an area that is unrelated to the area that is causing the restriction. Static stretching targets the area of pain, which may not be the source of the problem.

AIS is more effective as it takes a holistic approach and works not just the muscles, but tendons, ligaments, soft tissue and fascia too.

Some AIS stretches require a rope, strap, or partner to help you achieve the maximum stretch possible for optimal results. Stretches include gentle, fluid repetitive movements with a 1.5 to 2 second hold for about 10 repetitions. Each stretch targets only one muscle.

AIS stretches that may be beneficial to runners are demonstrated in the following video:

Active isolated stretching is used by many professionals including massage therapists, personal trainers, coaches, physical therapists and others. For athletes this method has aided in recovery from injuries through increased blood flow and oxygenation to the area. Other benefits include:

  • Increased performance
  • Reduced muscle strains and spasms
  • Increased muscle and tendon growth
  • Improved circulation and flexibility
  • Increased elasticity of muscles joints and fascia

To learn more about AIS, check out Aaron Mattes latest book:  Specific Stretching for Everyone, which is available in paperback or spiral bound. This book, adapted from his previous more technical AIS books, is designed for the individual athlete who wants to learn how to become more flexible and improve their health. This book will teach you how to properly increase your flexibility and your body's range of motion.

Stretching for everyone

Aaron is a registered Kinesiotherapist and Licensed Massage Therapist who has dedicated his practice to helping athletes increase flexibility and improve performance with less injuries.  

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