Alternative Exercise: Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a type of stretching exercise that is used to promote fitness and athletic ability by stretching the muscles and improving flexibility, strength, and coordination. Along with other stretching exercises, such as yoga or Pilates, AIS offers a less intense workout that focuses on particular areas of the body. While most people view stretching as merely a part of a higher impact exercise routine, supporters of active isolated stretching insist that practicing certain stretching techniques can promote health and fitness in a more relaxed exercise regimen that limits the stress placed on the body.
What is Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)?
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) differs from conventional stretching exercises in that certain exercise techniques are used to stretch muscles when they are fully relaxed; in this way, AIS offers a more controlled yet intense stretching routine that has a low risk of injury.
AIS stretches are done in slow sequences, whereby a particular stretch is held for 1.5 to 2 seconds, is released, and then repeated for up to 10 times. AIS has been used to assist amateur athletes in order to build strength and stamina, as well as for the treatment of pain caused by poor posture, injury, or inactivity.
How AIS Works
There are two main mechanisms behind AIS. The first is called reciprocal inhibition and works on the basis that a given area of the body consists of complimentary muscles. For instance, if the upper thighs are the areas in focus, the quadricep muscles at the front of your thighs will compliment the hamstring muscles found in the back regions. When the quadriceps are stretched, the hamstrings will be maximally relaxed. Thus, if you want to stretch the hamstrings, you must ensure that these muscles are relaxed by stretching the complimentary muscles (quadriceps) prior to your intended stretch.
The mechanism of reciprocal inhibition is believed to be more effective in elongating muscles than conventional stretches, which are more prone to injury.
The second mechanism involved in AIS relies on preventing the body from engaging in protective reflexes. A protective reflex state usually results from holding (conventional) stretches for over 2.5 seconds. By engaging in brief, intense stretches, AIS avoids this state and thus avoids contracting complimentary muscles and instead maintains muscle relaxation. In addition, the repetition of these stretches in a given AIS sequence promotes circulation and muscle strength, while elongating muscles and improving flexibility.
Benefits of Active Stretching
The main benefits of AIS include the following:
- improving flexibility
- relieving muscle soreness
- treating muscle spasms
- reducing chronic pain
- healing from injury
- increases athletic performance
- stress relief
- improving oxygen and nutrient intake through the blood
- stimulating lymph circulation
- improving metabolism including elimination of cellular waste
- improving and maintaining good posture
- improving range of motion including joints
- improving balance
Many health practitioners have used stretching exercises based on reciprocal inhibition without implementing the specific AIS regimen. In particular, these types of controlled stretches can also benefit short and tight muscles in the neck and hamstring regions. AIS stretches are generally useful in order to target specific parts of the body, and can accompany more intense stretching exercise routines such as yoga.