Saturday, May 26, 2012

If you think stretching is boring...

...then give this a whirl.

There's this dude.  Not "The Dude," but a dude in the massage and bodywork field, named Aaron Mattes.  Aaron Mattes developed a stretching modality called Active Isolated Stretching - The Mattes Method.  He cleverly takes one of the main concepts of stretching and turns it on its ear.  This is the concept of needing to hold a stretch for an extended time in order for it to be effective.  The Mattes Method is typically an assisted stretching method, involving a bodyworker (self-stretching is possible, however), and it calls for holding a stretch for no more than 1.5-2 seconds, but then to perform many repetitions of the stretch.

I still believe there is tremendous benefit in holding a stretch for 30+ seconds, but I also think that there is a logic in what Aaron has laid forth. However there are a couple critical details in making this an effective method of stretching.  So, don't think that you can just stretch for 2 seconds at a time and say that you're using the Mattes method and getting the maximum effectiveness of the technique.

In order to understand what makes the Mattes Method so effective, let's begin by looking at the name, Active Isolated Stretching:

Active - means that the client is actively engaging muscles in getting into the stretch position.
Isolated - means that the movement and stretching position is intended to target an isolated muscle or even section of fibers within a muscle.
Stretching - means that there will be some degree of stretching to help increase muscle length end flexibility.

The active portion of this method is critical, because it utilizes the concept of reciprocal inhibition of muscles (which you may remember that from this video post).  That concept states that in order for any given muscle to contract and move, then then opposite muscle must NOT be working.  So, you need to be able to isolate the target muscles and their opposites.  Then you can contract (activate) the opposite muscles to try to pull your target muscles into a bit of a stretch.  Once you are as far along as you can be without additional stretch assistance, the therapist will apply a gentle additional stretch to maximize the effectiveness, releasing the stretch in no more than 2 seconds, so that the stretch reflex doesn't have time to engage and push back against the stretch action.

Lather, rinse repeat, up to about 10 times.

Here's a little video to help you to visualize what this process looks like.  It's brief, and I think it will really help pull all these words together for you.

I think it's pretty clear that a solid knowledge of the muscular anatomy and movements involved is critical in making this an effective technique.  It is also an awful lot easier with a separate set of hands to help out.  But if you want to address this on your own, then the opposite limb and a rope, band or stretching strap can help be your "extra hands."

There is empirical evidence that suggests that this stretching method helps to address not only the muscles, but also the fascia.  Aaron Mattes claims to have worked on clients who have enjoyed extreme improvements in issues they have been enduring, often for a long time, in a relatively short time.  So enjoy that you might be benefiting yourself in more ways than just your flexibility.