Stretching - Active Isolated Stretching
The earliest form of stretching, called "ballistic stretching," was abandoned several decades ago. Athletes who tried it found that the rapid bouncing into and out of positions caused muscle soreness and sometimes even muscle tears.
After ballistic stretching came "static" stretching, which soon reached mass popularity through numerous books, articles and poster charts. In static stretching, the runner eases into a position and then holds that position for 30 to 60 seconds. Because there are no rapid movements, proponents argued, static stretching shouldn't produce soreness. Instead, it should promote flexibility through gradual adaptation to the stretch.
Many runners had considerable success with static stretching and similar yogalike postures. Others found that the stretches still caused soreness and didn't resolve their injury problems. A recently published paper in the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport also raised questions about the benefits of static stretching. Researchers asked one group of college-aged men to perform a series of 17 stretches ballistically while another group performed the same stretches statically. The results showed that static stretching produced more soreness and higher levels of creatine kinase, an enzyme associated with muscle-tissue injury, than ballistic stretching.
Why? For a possible explanation, we need look no farther than basic muscle physiology. All muscles have an inherent "stretch reflex" that's activated after a strong, rapid movement or after two seconds in a stretched position. The stretch reflex causes the muscle to begin a slow contraction. If you continue stretching while your muscle is trying to contract . . . well, it's like a tug-of-war. In this case, a tug-of-war that invites muscle damage.
Enter AI stretching. In AI stretching, you hold each position for only 1?to 2 seconds. Then you return to the starting position and relax. After resting for 2 seconds, you ease into the stretch again.
Beyond the 2-second limitation, AI stretching differs from static stretching in another important respect: AI stretches are "assisted" in two ways. First, you contract the opposing muscle group to help move the stretched area into position. Second, while continuing the contraction, you use a rope or your own hands to gently enhance the stretch.
Don't tug, however. The cardinal rule of stretching remains unchanged: Don't ever force yourself beyond the point of light irritation. Stretching is never an instant solution to an injury problem, so take your time. The best results come from consistent, gentle stretching.
Follow these steps in performing each stretch:
1. Contract the muscle group opposite the area you're stretching.
2. Bring each stretch to the point of light irritation.
3. Hold for 2 seconds.
4. Return to your starting position and relax for 2 seconds.
5. Repeat the stretch.
For best results, build up to two sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of each of the stretches, and perform them in the order shown. Exhale during the stretch phase, and inhale during the relaxation phase. Perform AI stretching before and after a run. If time is limited, just do one set of stretches after your run, with fewer repetitions; but even when you shorten the routine, always keep in mind good form, and do the stretches in the correct order.