You are spending too much damn time warming up for training and not enough time actually training.
Hey, it happens. After all, there's mobility and activation drills, static and dynamic range of motion, and a bevy of other techniques that can optimize performance and keep you healthy.
But here's the truth: all it really takes is a moment to learn a new technique that'll maximize your warm-ups and cooldowns; minimize the time you spend on them; and help you reach new levels of strength, speed, and health.
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS), developed by kinesiologist Aaron Mattes, is a type of manual therapy used by chiropractors, doctors, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and massage therapists. Most importantly, AIS techniques can be easily utilized by you.
AIS can be used in any part of your training regime from warm-ups to supersets to rehab. The basic premise is: Stretch what's tight; activate what's dormant.
The Problem with Regular Stretching
The main problem with typical stretching protocols is that they often work against your body's physiology rather than with it.
If you take a tight muscle and expose it to prolonged aggressive stretching, you could incur micro-tearing, bleeding, and scar tissue, which could then lead to further compromise of flexibility, muscle weakness, and contractures.
Most of this starts on the neurological level by way of the Golgi bodies and muscle spindles that prevent a muscle from stretching too far or too fast to prevent trauma. But by accounting for these stretch sensors, and by using gradual facilitative stretches with a two second peak, these drawbacks can be avoided and correct activation, relaxation, and function can be ensured.
How Does AIS Work?
Active Isolated Stretching methods can have a huge, immediate impact on human movement by addressing the circulatory, neuromuscular, and myofascial systems. When employed correctly, your movement capacity is enhanced to provide greater proficiency in activities dependent upon momentum, acceleration, force production, and angles of muscle contraction.
Long-term use of AIS improves overall flexibility, prevents acute injuries and repetitive chronic stress issues. Granted, many range-of-motion drills attempt to do this, but I believe that no other system delivers these gains as quickly and effectively as AIS.
You don't have to be an anatomy and physiology geek to understand why it works. The main reason is that AIS obeys the two important laws of human movement:
- Muscle fibers run in the lines of stress within the body and adhere to correct anatomical positioning. It's Wolf's Law: The form of a bone being given, the bone elements place or displace themselves in the direction of the functional pressure and increase or decrease their mass to reflect the amount of functional pressure.
- When you activate one muscle, its antagonist shuts off. That's Sherrington's Law of reciprocal inhibition and muscle contraction. When a muscle on one side of a joint is contracted, the muscle on the opposite side sends a neurological signal to relax or release.
By combining these two laws, you can achieve optimal range of motion from proper anatomical positioning and fascial lengthening without any reflexive inhibition or threat of trauma.
Enough Geek Talk! How Do You Actually Do It?
- Step 1: Figure out what muscle you want to address, then take that muscle through a gradual range of motion while contracting its antagonist.
- Step 2: When you start to hit the end-range of motion, apply a mild but facilitative force for two seconds. The facilitative force should be generated through the antagonist, although added assistance by way of a towel, belt, and rope (as seen in some of the videos) maximizes the effects of the technique.
- Step 3: Relax while returning the muscle to its original resting length.
- Repeat for 8-10 reps.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to keep a consistent contraction throughout the duration of the stretch. Without it, you'll never unlock the potential of these methods or your true range of motion capabilities.
Here are some examples of when you can use it:
Preparing for an Activity
Let's say you're going to the gym to squat after a long day at work. You feel tight through your anterior hips and quads. Instead of just stretching your quads, try this:
With this one, be sure to contract the glutes and hamstring during the stretch to avoid excessive lordosis.
Chances are, your prolonged seated posture for most of the work day has caused some adaptive shortening to occur. As a result, your anterior muscles are tight and your glutes have shut down to a certain degree. This stretch will fix you right up.
As a Superset
While you're going through your warm-up sets of bench press, you notice your pecs feel tight and you're having a tough time retracting and setting your scapulae. If you can't stabilize your shoulders through the scapulae, maintaining correct alignment with a decent load becomes difficult and force production is compromised.
Contract trapezius, rhomboids, infraspinatus, and teres minor to fully stretch pec major, anterior deltoid, and biceps fibers.
After an intense sprinting session, your hamstrings feel tight and tired for a day or two. This is what you need:
Contract the quadriceps to stretch the proximal end and belly of the hamstrings. This improves length-tension relationships as well as promoting recovery through improved circulation, lymph drainage, and other metabolic wastes.
Here are a couple more that fit conveniently in any scenario:
Contract the quads to lock the knee in place. Then flex the anterior tibialis, extensor digitorums, hallucis longus, and brevis to lift the foot and ankle for a gastrocnemius stretch.
Contract the external rotators (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor) to stretch the internal rotators (teres major, subscapularis, latissimus dorsi, pec major).
Real Life Examples
Here are two of my athletes from two very different sports who've benefitted from AIS:
The first is an elite-level powerlifter with bilateral elbow and wrist pain, grip weakness, and numbness in fingers. ART (Active Release Techniques) was used to release forearm flexors in conjunction with AIS principles to strengthen forearm extensors. Three weeks later the athlete pulled 585, benched 490, and squatted 705 at a national competition.
The next athlete is a high school baseball player who entered last season never throwing over 87 mph. Throughout the season, he lifted regularly and used AIS protocols as part of his regular throwing routine and recovery sessions. He started in the state championship game in June and continued pitching through the summer reaching the national AAU tournament in August throwing 90-plus mph.
Two Seconds Away
If you're serious about increasing performance and decreasing recovery time, give Active Isolated Stretching a shot. You could be just two seconds away from feeling great and performing at your best.