Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)

| June 26, 2013 | 4 Replies

Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a stretching type which is performed repetitively and targets at muscle lengthening and fascial release, being regarded as a productive way of increasing the individual’s flexibility and strengthening the muscles involved. Owing to its effectiveness, it is listed among the most preferred methods of stretching for athletes, personal trainers and therapists, but it has also been gaining popularity among everyday people too.

The creation of active isolated stretching method is attributed to Aaron Mattes, a physician who, forty years ago, was trying to come up with a more efficacious rehabilitative method for injuries. Experimenting with a rope, he managed to perform a rhythmic sequence of hamstring stretches, which lasted for no more than two seconds, thusly without triggering eccentric contraction. In that way, he invented a therapeutic treatment for deep and superficial muscles, tendons and fascia, which became known as the “Mattes Method”, being today one of the most prominent techniques of upgrading flexibility.

How Active Isolated Stretching Works

The fundamental feature of active isolated stretching is the performing of several repetitions which are hold for just two seconds at a time. During the first repetitions, or the even the first sets, the trainee extends his / her stretch on the verge of the normal range of motion so as to avoid triggering the protective stretch reflex (described in detail here), which causes the muscle to contract. After being “warmed up” and more relaxed, the trainee tries gradually and controllably to surpass the previous point of resistance, eventually expanding his / her suppleness.

The reason that  necessitates the holding of an active isolated stretch for no longer than two seconds is that this makes it possible for the targeted muscles to be extended without activating the protective stretch reflex (which is initiated after about 2,5 seconds) that automatically causes reciprocal antagonistic muscle contraction. Also, AIS makes full use of the principle of reciprocal inhibition, which causes the contracting muscle (agonist) to send a signal to the opposite muscle (antagonist) to relax, enabling movements and making it possible for an easier stretch thanks to the active muscle contraction that takes place.

Due to its “dynamic”/repetitive conception (not to be confused with dynamic stretching, though!), active isolated stretching strongly resembles a strength-training program, while it makes warming up the tissues beforehand – as it is the case with other forms of stretching – an unnecessary task (in fact, it can be itself integrated as a warm-up routine prior to working out in the gym). AIS is usually carried out for a handful of sets, consisting usually of 8-10 repetitions. Also, the stretches are done in an “active” technique (again, not to be confused with active stretching!), since the trainee performs them by moving the engaged limbs using his / her own muscles, while, in many cases, the use of a rope is required.

Active Isolated Stretching Exercises

Below are presented a few examples of active isolated stretching. Nonetheless, it is contraindicated to begin executing them without initially consulting a professional trainer, who can additionally show you the proper way of executing them (exact method of pulling, well-timed inhaling and exhaling etc.). Furthermore, checking out our Stretching Guide is going to provide helpful information as well!

  • Hamstring stretch: Assume a lying position with your left leg straightened on the floor and the right one also extended but up on the air, forming an angle of slightly less than 90 degrees with the floor leg; now, move your mid-air leg slightly backwards, to the direction of your chest, while also grabbing the back of your leg’s thighs with your palms so as to assist the move; when you feel a nice stretch in your hamstrings, hold it for only 2 seconds before releasing it and returning to initial position; keep on doing the same for the needed 8-10 repetitions while gradually increasing the range of motion; then, repeat with the other leg (photo 1) . There is also a variation of this exercise implementing a rope wrapped across the arch of the mid-air foot (photo 2). For more hamstring stretches, check this!
  • Gastrocnemius stretch: Lie supine, or simply sit, on the floor with your legs extended, having looped a rope just above the arch of your right foot; now, use the rope to buckle your toes backwards until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your calf, which you hold for no more than 2 seconds; let it go and repeat the sequence for 8-10 times, with a steady increase in the depth of the stretch; switch to the left foot and redo that stretching pattern (photo 3). Optionally, you can carry out this stretch totally actively, without the usage of the rope. For other gastrocnemious stretches, click this.
  • Chest stretch: Stand upright or sit on a chair; place your arms behind your head with your fingers intertwined; now, push your arms behind, feeling the stretch in the chest muscles for the familiar two seconds, and then leave them come forward again; repeat for the needed times, progressively pushing your arms to a bigger stretch. Alternately, you can use the services of a skilled partner (passive form) to help you expand the stretch as well as hold it for the required seconds (photo 4). For more chest stretches, check this!

  • Likewise, you can perform in the AIS mode some well-known stretches for the quadriceps (photo 5), the glutes, the chest, the neck, the shoulders, the arms etc., which are typically executed in the static form.

The above presented examples are indicative. Therefore, for a more detailed list of the AIS exercises (with variations including bands, balls or other special equipment), it is yet again recommended to seek for specialized counseling.


The advantages of an AIS program are several, and combined with the other common stretching benefits, they can render a rather positive total outcome. More specifically:

  • AIS is favorable for the increase of blood flow within the tissues, as well as for better oxygenation, in direct contrast with static stretching, which actually decreases it and can potentially lead to an injury.
  • It promotes endurance and lessens fatigue, thusly contributing to more rapid recovery.
  • Exactly due to the gradual extending of a muscle to its end range of motion, AIS is ideal for improving the elasticity of muscle joints and fascia without jeopardizing their safety.
  • It aids in providing a decent warm-up for upcoming athletic activity.

  • The big number of repetitions employed enables for greater amounts of lymph to move through the trainee’s body, adding to its proper detoxification!

What to Consider

To get fully benefited from the traits of an AIS program, do keep in mind the following:

  • Proper breathing is vital to achieve smooth stretches without bringing about excessive fatigue in your muscles.
  • The repetitive muscle contractions needed for an AIS routine to be properly achieved call for special coordination, practice and guidance, at least during the initial attempts.
  • Do remain extremely focused in your stretches so as not to exceed your tissue’s extensibility limit.

Similarities With Other Stretching Types

In comparison with other types of stretching, active isolated stretching has discernible differences, although it can be viewed as a combination of elements of them. For instance, it encompasses a static (with 2 seconds duration) and a repetitive/“swinging” part which is what happens in dynamic stretches. In any case, AIS has nothing to do with ballistic stretching, since the latter forces the muscle beyond their normal range of motion and necessitates bouncing motions.

Photos & Videos

The photos and video below give some good AIS examples:

AIS Hamstring Stretch

Photo 1 – AIS Hamstring Stretch


AIS Hamstring Stretch

Photo 2 – AIS Hamstring Stretch by means of rope

AIS Gastrocnemious Stretch

Photo 3- AIS Gastrocnemious Stretch


AIS Chest Stretch

Photo 4 – AIS Chest Stretch

AIS Quad Stretch

Photo 5- AIS Quad Stretch


Our Opinion

Conclusively, active isolated stretching can be definitely a choice for both experienced athletes or trainers and ordinary people who want to improve their suppleness and enjoy a more flexible body, also delivering an enhanced feeling of well-being. Indeed, the two-second concept stretch has been proven to be an excellent way of averting the triggering of muscle group contraction, allowing the trainee to accomplish full range of motion and maximum flexibility. To get truly benefited from this type of activity, all you need to do is seek advice from a skilled instructor so as to form the AIS program that best suits your personal needs without running any risks.



Category: Types of Stretching

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