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There are as many ways to stretch as there are stretches to do. Which ones are the best? Which ways are the worst (check last week's post "The Five Worst Ways to Stretch" for more on this).

While there are several ways to stretch with opinions that are as varied as they are abundant, from what I've seen, Aaron Mattes, MS, RKT, LMT has put together what I feel is the best strategy. He advocates active isolated stretching (AIS), or moving to get more range of motion in the muscles.

But before we get deeper in the Mattes Method, we need to first answer what is flexibility? Why do we need it?

Flexibility is defined as your range of motion about a joint from a flexed to an extended position. Loosely translated, it means how well do your joints move in different ranges of motion.

Several factors go into how flexible someone is, here are a few of them:

  • The length and suppleness of the muscles and ligaments
  • The shape of the bones and cartilage that form the joint
  • Flexibility can be genetic, but it can also be developed by stretching.
  • Trauma to any area of the body
  • Repetitive stress motions like cycling, running, swimming, etc.
  • Age
  • Chronic abnormal posture (hunched over at desk for example)
  • Muscles out of balance
The Benefits of Stretching
Why do we need to be more flexible? How does it keep us at a reduced rate of injury? The following details some of the reasons as to why more flexibility is a good thing.

  • Its easier to get loose for a given activity.
  • You can clear out the metabolic waste left behind by intense exercise faster. You will improve circulation and "clear out" the muscles of the accumulated affects of training more efficiently.
  • You stimulate flushing of the lymph system helping your body get toxins and waster products out of the body.
  • You move more efficiently, expend less energy and perform much better
What is "Active Isolated Stretching?"
In my opinion, the best way to stretch. I've come home beat down by hard training rides and races, and spending some time with AIS, life got a lot better a lot faster.

In his book "Active Isolated Stretching: The Mattes Method," Aaron Mattes describes AIS in the following way:
"This method of fascial release provides effective dynamic facilitated stretch of major muscle groups, but more importantly functional and physiological restoration of superficial and deep fascial planes. Performing an Active Isolated Stretch of no greater than :02 seconds allows the target muscle to optimally lengthen without triggering the protective stretch reflex and subsequent reciperocal antagonistic muscle contraction."

What does this mean to you the reader? That you can save yourself a ton of time trying to get more limber. What Mattes is getting at is you contract muscle groups opposite of the one being stretched to get a better relaxation response in the muscle you intend to lengthen to improve its flexibility.

For instance, lying down on your back doing a hamstring stretch. Instead of just holding your leg up in the air for a given time, you only hold the stretch for :02 while moving your leg back and forth from the floor to the stretch position while you breathe.

You would inhale while lowering your leg to the floor, and then by contracting your quads, you raise your leg on an exhale instead of pulling up with your hands. You'd hold the stretch for :02, then inhale again and repeat the process.

By doing this method of stretching, you will "restore joint movement, decrease tissue soreness and fatigue, increase tissue pliability and improve posture (Aaron Mattes, Active Isolated Stretching the Mattes Method)." This is an extremely effective, and almost as important, efficient way to stretch.

I would highly recommend getting the Mattes book, and using it daily to improve the way you move.
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