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What exactly is Active Isolated Stretching?

The Importance of Stretching

Before we look at the specifics of AIS, let's take a moment to understand the importance of stretching. While exercise is crucial for building strength and stamina, stretching plays a vital role in maintaining flexibility and preventing injuries. Unfortunately, many people neglect stretching, focusing solely on the more intense aspects of their fitness routine. However, failing to stretch properly can lead to muscle imbalances, decreased range of motion, and even injury.


Woman stretching her hamstring


Understanding Active Isolated Stretching

Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a highly effective method of muscle lengthening and fascial release. Developed by kinesiologist Aaron Mattes over 30 years ago, AIS is designed to improve flexibility, reduce pain, and enhance exercise performance without causing injury. Unlike traditional static stretching, which involves holding a stretch for an extended period, AIS focuses on short, isolated stretches that activate specific muscles while avoiding the stretch reflex.


The Three-Step Process of AIS

Active Isolated Stretching follows a simple three-step process that maximizes its effectiveness. Let's break down each step to understand how AIS works:


Isolate the Muscle to Stretch

In AIS, the first step is to isolate the muscle you want to stretch. Muscles often work in opposition, so to stretch one muscle, you need to engage the opposing muscle. For example, if you want to stretch your hamstrings, you need to flex your quadriceps. By isolating the target muscle, you can effectively stretch it without engaging other muscles unnecessarily.


Hold the Stretch for Two Seconds

Unlike static stretching, where you hold a position for an extended period, AIS involves holding each stretch for just two seconds. This brief duration allows the muscle to lengthen without triggering the protective stretch reflex. By avoiding this reflex, you can achieve a deeper stretch without the risk of injury.


Perform 10 Repetitions

To reap the full benefits of AIS, it's important to repeat the stretching process multiple times. Aim to perform around 10 repetitions of each stretch, focusing on proper form and breathing. Exhaling during the stretching portion of each rep helps improve circulation and oxygen flow throughout the body.


Active Isolated Stretching Examples

Now that we understand the principles of AIS, let's explore some examples of active isolated stretches:


Bent Leg Hamstring Stretch


To perform this stretch, lie on your back with both knees bent and the feet flat on the ground. Lift one leg,straighten the knee by contracting the quads, and gently pull the leg towards your chest assisting with hands on a strap. Hold for two seconds, release by bending the knee, and repeat for 10 repetitions. This stretch targets the hamstrings and helps improve flexibility in the back of the thigh.


Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch


While kneeling on one knee, place your hands on your hip bones and tilt your pelvis forward, contracting the glutes at the same time. Hold for two seconds, release, and repeat for 10 reps. This stretch helps improve pelvic mobility, stride length and reduces tension in the lower back.


Lateral Trunk Flexors


Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms relaxed at your sides. Gently reach one arm up and over your head towards the opposite side, feeling a stretch along the side of your body. Hold for two seconds, return to the starting position, and repeat on the other side. Perform 10 repetitions on each side. This stretch targets the lateral trunk muscles and enhances flexibility in the side of the body.


Trunk Extensions


Lie on your stomach with your hands placed beneath your shoulders. Slowly lift your upper body off the ground, keeping your hips and lower body relaxed. Hold the position for two seconds, lower back down, and repeat for 10 reps. This stretch helps improve spinal mobility and strengthens the muscles of the back.


Hip Adductor Stretch


Sit on the ground with your legs extended in front of you. Bring the soles of your feet together, knees bent and pointed outward. Grab your ankles and pull your heels toward your pelvis.  Contract the glutes to bring the knees toward the floor while assisting with the elbows, holding the stretch for two seconds then release. Perform 10 repetitions on each side. This stretch targets the hip adductor muscles and improves inner thigh flexibility.


Quadriceps Stretch


Stand tall and hold onto a wall or stable surface for balance. Bend one knee and bring your heel towards your glutes, grabbing your ankle or foot with your hand. Gently pull your heel towards your glutes, feeling a stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold the glute contraction for two seconds, release, and repeat on the other side. Perform 10 reps on each leg. This stretch targets the quadriceps muscles and enhances flexibility in the front of the thigh.


Frequently Asked Questions about Active Isolated Stretching


What are the benefits of Active Isolated Stretching?

Active Isolated Stretching offers numerous benefits, including improved flexibility, improves muscle contraction efficiency, provides reduced pain, enhanced exercise performance, and increased circulation. By isolating specific muscles and holding stretches for two seconds, AIS promotes effective lengthening without triggering the stretch reflex which causes muscle fatigue during prolonged/passive stretching.


Can I perform Active Isolated Stretching on my own?


While it's possible to perform AIS stretches on your own, it's crucial to have proper knowledge and technique to prevent injury. Working with a trained AIS practitioner can provide professional guidance and ensure safe and effective stretching. Performance Care Stretch Clinic can help create a customized plan that specifically meets your needs.


How often should I incorporate Active Isolated Stretching into my routine?


The frequency of AIS depends on individual needs and goals. Some people benefit from daily stretching, while others may incorporate it into their routine a few times a week. Listen to your body and adjust the frequency based on your comfort and progress.  Active Isolated Stretching is one specific form of dynamic stretching to be done prior to exercise as a warm-up.


Is Active Isolated Stretching suitable for all fitness levels?


Yes, AIS is suitable for individuals of all fitness levels. The stretches can be modified and tailored to accommodate different abilities and limitations. Whether you're a professional athlete or a beginner, AIS can help improve flexibility and overall well-being.


Going Forward


Active Isolated Stretching is a highly effective method for muscle lengthening and fascial release. By isolating specific muscles, holding stretches for two seconds, and performing multiple repetitions, AIS offers numerous benefits, including improved flexibility, reduced pain, and enhanced exercise performance. Whether you choose to perform AIS stretches on your own or seek assistance from a trained AIS practitioner, incorporating this technique into your routine can have a significant positive impact on your overall well-being. So, don't neglect the power of stretching and make Active Isolated Stretching an essential part of your fitness journey.

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