Flat palming the floor, even touching my toes without feeling a painful tug at my hamstrings, has always eluded me. During my days as a fitness instructor, I stretched routinely, but my muscles remained as tight as guitar strings.
I tried the ten-second stretch technique, then upped my hold time to 60 seconds, then more. But I never saw a difference in my range of motion. Finally, I stopped stretching.
About a year ago, I attended a three-day workshop on Active Isolated Stretching (AIS), taught by the world-renowned master himself, Aaron Mattes, who has developed and refined his technique over several decades.
For someone with chronically tight muscles, AIS is a game changer; for someone with chronic pain, even severe medical conditions like Parkinson’s, AIS is a life changer.
One of the primary differences between AIS and other stretch techniques is that you perform multiple repetitions (usually in sets of ten), while holding each stretch for only two seconds. You use a strap to add an extra push at the end of each repetition in order to achieve a tiny improvement with each pass.
By holding each stretch for two seconds, you avoid the Stretch Reflex – a muscle’s natural self defense mechanism that protects it from injury that occurs when a muscle is stretched too far or too long (usually before the ten-second mark.) This is why some of us see greater gains in range of motion with AIS than with other stretch techniques that can leave us feeling the same or tighter.
When we stretched our hamstrings, I was truly surprised to see my Range of Motion increase by several inches in just a few minutes. The Mattes Method includes six positions for the hamstrings alone, so all fiber of the muscles are stretched.
Each position in the Mattes Method is very specific. AIS is based on the principle of Reciprocal Inhibition, which states that when you contract one muscle, an opposing muscle will relax. When this occurs, your body can more effectively stretch the targeted relaxed muscle. Hence, when you stretch your hamstrings, you tighten your quads.
Mattes’s book “Specific Stretching For Everyone,” is an excellent pictorial guideline to help you learn how to stretch all your major muscle groups.
You can also find AIS practitioners and classes listed on the Aaron Mattes website –