I have always been a strong advocate of stretching. For years I have stretched on a daily basis as part of a way to maintain my health. I stretch my clients. I have felt that no rehabilitation program, exercise routine, wellness program or approach to a healthy lifestyle can be complete without it. I regularly try to educate friends and clients who exercise without stretching. Our muscles just go through too many contractions on a daily basis to maintain their natural resting length without assistance from stretching. Also, through most of our daily lives we are doing a limited number of motions. Therefore we become flexible in some motions and habitually restricted in others. Most authorities have maintained the traditional belief that static stretching (applying a stretch and holding it) for 3 repetitions of 30 seconds is the most effective way of lengthening a muscle.
Two years ago, while in Cambridge, Ma I was introduced to a new form of stretching and strengthening by Dr. Ben Benjamin. It is called Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) and has been in development over the past 30 years by Aaron Mattes RKT LMT. It is referred to as active because the person receiving the treatment initiates the movement and force is only applied by the therapist at the end of the movement. This idea of an assisted stretch where the recipient does most of the work of going through the motion is effective by exploiting something known as Sherrington's Law of Reciprocal Inhibition. This law states that when we use one muscle (the agonist muscle) the muscle that opposes that muscle (the antagonist muscle) will relax. So when I use my Quadriceps muscle group which flexes my hip to move into a position that would stretch my hamstring muscle group (which is the antagonist muscle group to the quadriceps) my hamstrings relax and are therefore able to be lengthened further than they would without the use of the quadriceps. The stretches are referred to as Isolated because we introduce specific and minute angles to the stretch to not only isolate specific muscles within the group to be stretched but we are also able to stretch and lengthen specific parts of the muscle. One of the final differentiating factors to this form of stretching is how long we hold the stretch for. And this is where i was at first a skeptic. These stretches are only held for 2-3 seconds at a time and they are done in many repetitions. The reason for this lies in recent research that has shown that during a static stretch a muscle has a tendency to contract and we wind up stretching the tendons instead of the muscle. By stretching the tendons instead of the muscle we weaken the tendons making ourselves more susceptible to muscular injuries such as strains, and tears. By lengthening the muscle through AIS we make ourselves less likely to suffer from such injuries. These repeated stretches are not the same as bouncing in a stretch, which is harmful. Because we repeatedly take the muscle through it' full range the muscle is allowed to rejuvenate by taking in more blood and oxygen.
One of the even more interesting things about this form of stretching is that since it involves working with the nerve innervations of the muscle through Sherrington's Law of Reciprocal Inhibition, we actually facilitate a better link between the muscle and the brain. This gives people more control over their muscles and makes them more effective and less likely to suffer injury. Something that has also been particularly useful to me, is that through AIS I can work on Tissue that is far too deep for even the deepest massage therapist to reach.
After receiving a number of sessions and seeing the results of this stretching myself I have decided to pursue it further. Over the past two years I have been travelling to Sarasota, FL to study with Aaron Mattes, the developer of the technique. At this point I am using it on nearly all of my clients and have been pleasantly suprised at how my results are significantly better than they had been without Active Isolated Stretching. In fact with many clients, we are getting results that I never thought we could in a surprisingly short amount of time. Book a half hour or hour of Active Isolated Stretching today and see the difference it makes.