So we’ve had it drilled into our heads by now: its best to stretch after activity rather than before. But when we do stretch, what kind of stretching is the most effective? New research is stating that our old stand by “static stretching” might not be the most beneficial way. Here’s why:

First off: what is static stretching and what’s going on during?

Static stretching is performed by bringing a muscle into a stretch and holding it in that position for at least 30 seconds. The theory behind static stretching is that by holding the muscle for at least 30 seconds you are allowing the muscle to reach a new resting length. There’s a problem with this theory though: Our muscles have a reaction to stretching called the myostatic stretch reflex. When a muscle is held in a stretch for more than about 3 seconds it automatically begins to contract against the stretch to prevent injury. It has also been proven that holding a muscle in one position for that long, and not allowing movement, starves the muscle of oxygen. Which is the opposite of what we want!

So what’s the alternative?

When looking to increase muscle flexibility any professional and amateur athletes alike now use Active Isolated Stretching and there’s proof behind why.

Whats going on when we perform an AIS?

In an active isolated stretch (AIS) you are bringing the muscle into the stretch, holding for two seconds, and then releasing back to the start position. This is done 8-10 times. In this type of stretch you are using the principle of reciprocal inhibition, which means when a muscle contracts the opposing muscle must relax to allow for the contraction. We will use the hamstring as an example. To stretch the hamstring using AIS, you are contracting your quad to bring the hamstring into a stretch. Because the quad is shortening the hamstring must relax to allow this action to occur.

Now what about that stretch reflex?

Because we are only holding the stretch for 2 seconds, we are bypassing that myostatic stretch reflex and allowing the muscle to lengthen without the shortening reaction you would get with a static stretch. We are also not inhibiting blood flow with an AIS stretch, in fact it helps to pump the blood into the muscles.

So give Active Isolated Stretching a try in your workout routine!