Let’s say you want to go for a run. Or maybe you’re more into hiking. You grab your shoes, lace them up, and head off to the local park for a few laps. A few minutes in, you start to slow down because your legs are getting sore. Why? You didn’t stretch first.

There are different reasons people don’t stretch. Sometimes they forget, other times they don’t think it is necessary, and still other times they don’t do it because it is uncomfortable or hurts. But stretching does not have to be painful. Many have found success in their active-regimen with Active Isolated Stretching.

What is Active Isolated Stretching?

Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a stretching program with 4 basic principles.

  1. Isolate the muscle you want to stretch.
  2. Repeat each stretch 8-10 times.
  3. Only hold each stretch for two seconds – no more.
  4. Exhale during the stretch, and inhale during the release.

As AIS is repetitively performed, the person completing the stretches tries to extend their range of motion slowly. And because it has a dynamic/repetitive concept, it looks similar to strength training. It also allows you to stretch the muscle when it is a state of maximized relaxation.


Why Does It Work?

AIS works by contracting the muscle opposite of the one you want to isolate. This sends signals to the brain to relax the other muscle, which provides an ideal situation to stretch it. Repeating the stretch so frequently increases the flow of blood and nutrients to the area – this gives the muscle the ability to recover more quickly. And when you only hold the stretch for 2 seconds, it keeps the myotatic stretch reflex from activating as well as overstretching the muscle. As an added bonus, it also aids in increasing range of motion.

If the stretch reflex is triggered, the muscle will begin to contract, which defeats the purpose of this exercise. It reduces the amount of oxygen in the area – the opposite of what you want to happen.

The controlled breathing assists in increasing oxygen to the muscles. This lessens the buildup of lactic acid which contributes to the soreness in muscles. It also is a contributor to injuries.

Because Active Isolated Stretching is what’s called “active” stretching (meaning the person whose muscles are being stretched is performing the stretches using their own body parts rather than assistance), it causes reciprocal inhibition. In layman’s terms, this means that when one muscle contracts, another one relaxes. That is the perfect time to begin stretching the muscle.


The Benefits of Active Isolated Stretching

Neuromuscular re-education

AIS engages your muscles and brain in each movement and stretch. So each time you reach a new range of motion, you produce a new neural pathway.

Increases flexibility

At some point, you mentally conned yourself into believing you could only stretch so far. That most likely happened either after an injury or because that area was not as strong or flexible as it should be. The “reprogramming” that comes along with AIS helps get rid of any internalized idea concerning your flexibility.

Stress Relief

The contraction of your muscles can often be caused by stress. This stress puts extra tension on your body, so it’s important to relieve the stress.

Like other forms of exercise and massage, AIS triggers endorphins which helps improve your mood and state of mind.

Pain Relief

In combination with massage therapy, Active Isolated Stretching can bring quick pain relief to areas like your neck, shoulders, and back. Due to sedentary jobs and a lack of proper instruction, most of us have poor posture; this often results in pain and discomfort in these areas as we try to overcompensate for our imbalances.

Increased Blood Circulation

Stretching of any kind will help the circulatory system. This helps to increase the amount of blood and oxygen your soft tissue and organs receive. So if you’re suffering from water retention, swelling, or poor circulation, the more you stretch, the more your condition will improve.


When Should You Perform AIS?

You will benefit from Active Isolated Stretching the most when you notice you have particularly tight muscles like your hamstrings or the ones in your back.

Blood circulation is in its prime in late afternoon and evening, so this is the best time of day to practice this stretching technique.

AIS is also best performed before any intense stretching sessions or vigorous exercising (running, yoga, etc.). When these exercises are practiced ahead of a workout, it allows an increase in blood flow which lowers your chances of muscle strains and tears.


In combination with massage therapy, Active Isolated Stretching can help you bounce back to peak performance as well as expand your range of motion.

If you want to see more results from your stretching routine, talk to your massage therapist about Active Isolated Stretching techniques to add to your exercise plan.