Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) - The Perspective of a Dancer

I’m a trained professional ballet dancer and the quest for the perfect way to stretch and increase flexibility was a life-long pursuit and one of the most important aspects to maintaining a long and healthy career.

Pilates was the perfect gateway from dance to intelligent movement that was not as invasive and was easy on the joints yet still produced muscle tone and strength. So I became an instructor Trainer of Pilates Education. I wanted to inspire people to move beautifully. Later, I added GYROTONIC to my practice and have been in awe of how great movement has evolved over this decade.

Throughout my 10 years of teaching clients and students, and continuing my own education, perhaps one of the most intriguing people I have met is Aaron Mattes. He inspired me this past yearto offer his method of Active Isolated Stretching as continuing education at ABsolute Pilates to instructors and students and as sessions to clients.

Mattes is revered by many past and present sports professionals and high profile individuals, including former presidents. But what humbles me the most is his dedication to working 12-hour days in his clinic and in sharing his knowledge and precious time to simply “help people.”

While in his seminar, many famous sports names were mentioned and some even stopped by to participate in a session while we were there. Of course, I knew none of those names or the sport with which they were affiliated. Rest assured that my eyes and ears popped open when Mattes casually mentioned working with Rudolph Nureyev – one of the greatest classical ballet artist and athlete of our time.

I researched online and discovered that Nureyev actually dedicated his last performance ever, in Sarasota, Fla., to Mattes as a gesture of thanks and appreciation.

Why does this method work?

Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is one of the most popular methods of stretching used by personal/athletic trainers and movement professionals. The Mattes Method of Active Isolated Stretching uses a 1.5 - 2-second stretch that has been proven to be the key in DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

Performing an AIS stretch of no greater than two seconds, with 8-10 repetitions, allows the target musclesto optimally lengthen and to increase circulation by bringing blood and oxygen to the tissues which in turn makes them more pliable. Muscle and tendon range of motion can be improved by up to 1.6 times its resting length without opposing tension or trauma to the tissues.

First, you need to understand the basics of flexibility. Flexibility is the ability to move joints through their normalrange of motion to prevent injuries andto maintain correct postures. The primary obstacle is the tightness of the surrounding muscles and fascia of a joint; therefore, a desirable way to alter the range of motion is by gently stretching the tissue (fascia) without causing trauma.

For many years traditional stretching has involved holding a static stretch at its greatest possible length for anywhere between 15 to 30 seconds. The fundamental problem is that after two seconds, it will invoke the stretch reflex muscle to activate, which not only opposes the desired stretch but also aggravates the tissues. My favorite saying from Mattes is that “you cannot go north and south atthe same time!” Simply stated, you cannot elongate tissue when the protective muscle spindle is stimulated to contract and protect the muscle from stretching further.

This simple scientific fact made me think back to years of flexibility training in which I actually caused more harm than good and more strain than stretch.

We at ABsolute Pilates incorporate AIS principles within our client sessions and as an educational workshop to fitness and health professionals to promote the teachings of the Mattes Method for continuing educational credits.

Kudos to you, Mattes, for such an intelligent approach to stretching that not only maximizes athletic performances but that also enhances health and general well-being.

Monica Hoekstra

Society Magazine – July 2012