Active Isolated Stretching

Research shows that when you stretch, small microtears occur in your muscles that can often cause more harm than good.

However, we also know that flexibility is essential to staying injury-free and having a strong, powerful stride.

So, what’s the solution? A technique called “active isolated stretching”.

Listen in as Coach Sinead explains the science behind AIS and how best to implement it in your routine.


Audio Transcript

Coach Sinead: Hey everyone. Thank you so much for joining me.

Today, we have a great question about active isolated stretching from Ellie.

Ellie: What exactly is active isolated stretching or AIS? How does this differ from static stretching and when should you do active isolated stretching for the best results? Before or after you run?

Sinead: This is a fantastic question Ellie and first off, I am going to start with your first question, which was, what is the difference between AIS and static stretching?

The biggest difference is that AIS or active isolated stretching is dynamic. You only hold the stretches for two seconds each, whereas in static stretching, you hold the stretches between thirty to sixty seconds.

The other big difference between these two stretching techniques is that you can do active isolated stretching.

In other words, you can do this before you run, whereas with static stretching, you want to reserve that for after you’ve run and after you’ve warmed up the muscles.

This is because your muscles are like uncooked noodles before you run.

If you try to stretch them, they are prone to muscle tears and strains, just like if you were to bend an uncooked noodle, whereas after you run when warmed up and your muscles have gotten some blood flow to the area, you go to stretch the muscle.

It’s more supple and softer like a boiled noodle. That’s why you want to save static stretching for after you run, whereas you can do active isolated stretching before and after you run.

The underlying theory behind active isolated stretching is that, if a muscle is stretched too far, fast, or even for too long, it causes a protective action to take place that’s known as the myotatic reflex.

When this reflex happens, your muscle recoils to prevent it from tearing. This usually occurs between three to five seconds into a stretch.

With AIS, stretches are only held for two seconds each. Your avoiding that myotatic reflex and getting a dynamic and efficient stretch in.

With every stretch, you only hold it again for two seconds but you do it ten times. Using this technique, the muscles exhibit a greater range of motion over the course of each set of stretch in repeats.

As you continue to do more reps, your muscles exhibit greater range of motion which means in the long term, you’re going to gain more elasticity in the joints and pressure.

In the short term, you’re going to get some nice circulation going, which will help you either warm up for your run, or recover faster after your run.

Another thing that’s unique to AIS and differentiates it from static stretching, is the idea behind AIS, that you are trying to contract the opposing muscles that then allow the target muscle to relax.

For example, when stretching the hamstrings, the quads on the front of the leg are contracted.

By contracting these muscles, you are relaxing the hamstrings and making them more susceptible to stretching.

For a hamstring stretch, you would lie on your back, lift your leg by using the muscles on the front of your leg, contracting your quads, and then stretch the hamstring by lightly pulling the leg back to the point of tightness for two seconds, and then releasing.

The other thing that makes active isolated stretching unique is that you’ll use a rope.

You might be familiar with this. It’s called rope stretching because the rope allows you to coax your muscle through the last few degrees of your range of motion.

You’re going to be doing a lot of the work by yourself, but once you’ve stretched as far as you can on your own, you’re going to use that rope to bring it up a few more degrees to get a good efficient stretch in.

This technique of stretching is becoming more popular among runners. One runner helped to popularize this technique.

His name is Meb Keflezighi and he does these active isolated stretches before and after every single run.

Before the run, to get circulation going and jumpstart his muscles before he does his warm up, and then after the run to get more circulation to the area and expedite recovery.

While Meb might do this before and after every single run, I realized that a lot of our listeners have busy lives.

If you can only get a few of the stretches in, maybe before or after most of your runs, then you’re going to be doing fine.

I will advise that you don’t necessarily need to do all the different stretches. There are stretches for your calves, quads, hips, etcetera.

If you can name it, there’s probably an active isolated stretch for it. I would focus mostly on what you feel is tight at the time.

Personally, I tend to focus on my hamstrings and my calves when I do these stretches, because that’s where I tend to get a lot of knots and a lot of tightness.

Make sure that you focus on the areas that are most important.

I know you don’t have all the time in the world to do every single type of active isolated stretch before and after every single run.

Instead, you should focus on the areas that are important to you and maybe do them every day or every other day; whatever time permits.

It only takes a couple of minutes to get the areas you want to target because you’re only doing ten by two second rants on each side.

It’s a short easy way to increase circulation and increase elasticities in your joints in fashion.

Lots of nice short-term benefits and a lot of nice long-term benefits as well, when it comes to active isolated stretching.

Ellie, thank you so much for submitting that question. I really enjoyed answering that one for you today and hope I cleared up active isolated stretching for you.

If you have a question you would like answered by one of our coaches in an upcoming episode, you can submit it at runnersconnect.net/daily.

As always, we would love to hear any questions you have on absolutely anything at all, so please feel free to submit those and we look forward to hearing your questions.

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I hope everyone’s training is going well, and I hope you have a great run today.

Thanks so much again for tuning in today. Until next time.

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