Active isolated stretching : an investigation of the mechanical mechanisms
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The Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) technique proposes that by contracting a muscle (agonist) the opposite muscle (antagonist) will relax through reciprocal inhibition and lengthen without increasing muscle tension (Mattes, 2000). The clinical effectiveness of AIS has been reported but its mechanism of action has not been investigated at the tissue level. Proposed mechanisms for increased range of motion (ROM) include mechanical or neural changes, or an increased stretch tolerance. The purpose of the study was to investigate changes in mechanical properties, i.e. stiffness, of skeletal muscle in response to acute and long-term AIS stretching for the hamstring muscle group. Recreationally active university-aged students (female n=8, male n=2) classified as having tight hamstrings, by a knee extension test, volunteered for the study. All stretch procedures were performed on the right leg, with the left leg serving as a control. Each subject was assessed twice: at an initial session and after completing a 6-week AIS hamstring stretch training program. For both test sessions active knee extension (ROM) to a position of "light irritation", passive resisted torque and stiffness were determined before and after completion of the AIS technique (2x10 reps). Data were collected using a Biodex System 3 Pro (Biodex Medical Systems, NY, USA) isokinetic dynamometer. Surface electromyography (EMG) was used to monitor vastus lateralis (VL) and hamstring muscle activity during the stretching movements. Between test sessions, 2x10 reps of the AIS bent knee hamstring stretch were performed daily for 6-weeks.