By Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas
Bicycling is a repetitive-motion exercise that can lead to tightness in several major muscle groups.
Static (traditional) stretching gradually lengthens a muscle to an elongated position and holds that position for 20 seconds. When done properly, static stretching slightly lessens the sensitivity of stretch receptors in our muscles. That allows the muscle to relax and stretch to a greater length.
In the last few years, however, several studies have found that doing static stretching before playing a sport actually makes you slower and weaker. This is because the lower sensitivity of the stretch receptors makes us less able to move fast or freely.
Static stretching is recommended after cycling and has a variety of benefits when done properly. Still, many elite athletes in all sports are ditching post-training static stretching altogether, and using “dynamic” stretching as a viable warm-up technique prior to exercise.
In 1995, I witnessed a stretching demonstration by a trainer named Jim Wharton. Using a rope, he taught me a method of flexibility training known as AIS, or Active-Isolated Stretching. Aaron Mattes, a kinesiologist and world-renowned expert on flexibility, developed this technique. I had the good fortune to study with both Jim Wharton and Aaron Mattes. I”™ve used AIS every day for the past 17 years and have trained thousands of students to perform a 20-minute dynamic-stretching routine before riding. Most of them — seriously — continue to do it daily.
Cycling contracts skeletal muscles that attach to bones by tendons. Each muscle has sensory structures called stretch receptors that monitor the state of the muscle and feed the information back to the central nervous system. Stretch receptors are sensitive to the velocity of the movement of the muscle and the degree that it”™s lengthened.
The Golgi Tendon Organ is a stretch receptor located at the insertion of skeletal muscle fibers into the tendon. It provides the sensory component of the Golgi tendon reflex, also known as the stretch reflex. The stretch reflex is a protective mechanism that attempts to prevent over-stretching and tearing of the muscle fibers.
AIS uses the body”™s natural stretch reflex to enhance flexibility. Because it”™s movement-based, it also dynamically stimulates blood flow and muscle extension through movement. These factors make it optimal for warm-up.
After a couple of seconds of stretching, a muscle begins to contract as a result of the protective stretch reflex. This is to prevent excessive elongation and a potential muscle tear. The key to AIS is not to continue stretching beyond this point. Static stretching continues, and that”™s why it diminishes performance.
The Active-Isolated Stretching technique involves holding each stretch for only two seconds, rather than 20. The stretch is repeated 8 to 12 times for a progressive muscle release. This degree of repetition dramatically increases blood flow to the muscles to enhance warm up.
This method of stretching is also known to work with the body's natural physiological makeup to improve circulation and increase the elasticity of muscle joints and fascia.
The shorter stretch, however, needs to be coupled with reciprocal inhibition. This is another natural response of the muscle. Contracting the muscles on one side of a joint relaxes the muscle on the other side of that joint. When performing AIS, you actively contract the antagonist of the muscle you are trying to stretch (the agonist). This promotes an enhanced release in the target muscle. The antagonist contraction also stimulates blood flow and generates body heat.
Active-Isolated Stretching does many things that static stretching cannot:
- AIS provides a transition between inactivity and physical exertion.
- AIS assists the pre-exercise warm-up process by increasing blood flow and soft-tissue temperature. This makes is both a stretch sequence and a warm-up technique, and settles the long-running debate in the fitness industry about whether or not it”™s necessary to warm-up prior to stretching. With AIS, both occur together.
- AIS produces supple, relaxed muscles, which have a higher capacity for activity.
- AIS reduces the likelihood of muscle cramping, tightness and pain.
- AIS increases and maintains the range of motion in a joint.
Personally, I”™ve performed upper- and lower-body AIS daily, both pre- and post-riding, for 17 years. I attribute much of my athletic longevity and my body”™s ability to perform at a high level to Active-Isolated Stretching.
AIS is one of the stretching methods most used by today's athletes, massage therapists, personal/athletic trainers, and fitness professionals. AIS allows the body both to repair itself and to prepare for daily activity.
To learn more, simply google Active-Isolated Stretching. An extensive YouTube library depicts the stretching techniques, and numerous websites have images of how the stretches should be done.
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AIS is an excellent form of stretching, and I’ve seen it improve flexibility in users far more than other, more traditional forms do. However, the woman demonstrating the stretches in the YouTube video makes several rather glaring mistakes, including, but not limited to, these: She seems to assist the stretch (with her hands or with the rope) while she’s still moving into the stretched position, rather than performing the stretch completely first, and then assisting. She doesn’t hold the assisted portion of the stretch for a full 2 seconds. She doesn’t release and relax the leg completely after each repetition. On the straight-leg hamstring stretch, she lifts her hip off the floor.
If you’re interested in incorporating AI stretching into your workouts, it might be worthwhile to find an instructor who is certified in the technique. Jim Wharton and his son have run certifications throughout the country, so it might be relatively easy to locate a qualified instructor.
Yes interesting but
1st ) in real classe situation … how would you sell your riders to spend 10-15 minutes stretching before riding if they just have or just WANT to have 1hour ?
2nd ) is it really adapted to cycling as cycling is an unweight actvity with no big stress on the muscular system ?
I think that a progessive and adapted warm-up on the bike is still the best way to prepare for a IDC training.
The more you know the body mechanic and the effects of some activities, the more you can say that cycling is not the healthfiest activity; the cycling patern is totelly not natural, it leed to a LOT of imbalances that need to be corrected by other activities and I am not talking about those coming from crazy contre indicate movement we see in IDC.
Stretching and “core” (I put core in “” because core is more than just the abs) have major importance here and it is not 10 minutes that would make any difference unless you ride 1 or 2 hour a week. Stretching and core are 2 skill that take time to train, a little like what is done during a WELL CORRECTLY done Yoga practice.
Thanks for your post. I noticed some of the same technique adjustments needed by the woman in the video as you. You been extensively trained by Jim and Phil Wharton (as was I) and they worked directly with the founder of the technique, Aaron Mattes. We are lucky to have a well-trained eye for correct alignment afforded us by our mentors. I think the video does a good job of demonstrating the difference between AI and static stretching. It also is clearly dynamic and not ballistic. For those that are new to AIS, it is satisfactory example.
I also agree that if people are interested in finding out more about AIS, they look for the names Jim and Phil Wharton, or even Aaron Mattes, who is still doing workshops.
You raise a good point and I thank you for helping me to clarify something. I never make an AI stretch part of a standard class as the time necessary to perform a a full sequence is too lengthy (as you point out). I actually never include any stretching at the end of class as the rushed static sequence frequently suggested by some educating bodies, in my opinion, is not the best option for creating balance in the body after performing a repetitive action like cycling.
I have one class that I teach called Performance Max that is 2 hours long. That class affords 30 minutes at the beginning for a full body AI stretch and 10 minutes of core work including the Foundation series created by Peter Park. When students ask me about stretching I take the time to show them how to do AI and core for the bike apart from class. The time is well spent.
Of course some people want something that is fast and easy, but once they go through the complete AI and core training sequence, they feel phenomenally better. I also like to demonstrate it prior to training because the students then feel better on the bike and perform at a higher level. I have not found the need to stretch afterwards when I stretch before, though some students do a shorter AI sequence after class as well.
A lot of time? Yes, if you are 20-30 years old. 40 year olds and above start to make the connection that therapy and balancing activities take on more precedence if they are to remain strong on the bike. My point is I do not shortchange this part for someone’s training. If they want something fast and easy (and less effective) I will suggest they speak with another trainer.
I likewise will do several yoga asanas on a semi-daily basis. I do not attend a class on a regular basis as I would rather be riding my bike. The discipline of yoga is something I have spent time studying and there is cross over to how I teach riding a bike, but I find it difficult to follow both disciplines at the same time. The physical benefits of limited yoga practice are all I bring into my training regimen at this time as my AI and core regimen provide many of the same benefits, just not the philosophy.
As always, thanks for your post.