Stretches

One of my favorite types of stretching to teach and perform is Active Isolated Stretching or (AIS).This method allows for minimal risk of injury and it fairly easy to teach to your clients and athletes. AIS was named and developed Aaron Mattes and its goal is to stretch muscles when they are maximally relaxed.

As an example I’ll use the muscles that surround your arm. From a functional perspective, your biceps and triceps perform opposite actions; your triceps muscles shorten to extend (straighten) your arm, while your biceps muscles shorten to flex (curl) your arm. While either flexing or extending your arm, your nervous system will allow your biceps or triceps to do their jobs with the least amount of opposing strain. So when your triceps are straightening your arm, your biceps will relax so that the triceps can do its job with minimal resistance. Just as when you flex your arm, your triceps will relax to reduce the resistance.
This is known as reciprocal inhibition.

Active Isolated Stretching uses reciprocal inhibition to stretch muscles when they are maximally relaxed. When you stretch your biceps with AIS, you will begin by contracting your triceps muscle for a few seconds, which causes your biceps muscle to relax throughreciprocal inhibition. You follow this immediately by a brief, intense, and controlled stretch of your biceps muscle while it is still in a state of relaxation. This can be applied to any opposing groups of muscles in your body such as your calves, legs, chest and back.

Active Isolated Stretching is very effective, and if you have a partner to help and assist you to further the stretch then it can really speed up the process. Personally I find it easier to teach a form of static stretching first then move into AIS.

Whatever type of stretching you choose to perform there are a few things you should always keep in mind.

  • Any stretching should only be performed after a proper warm up has been done. Warming up before you stretch will increase blood flow to your muscles which will decrease the risk of suffering a strain or tear.  Think of your muscles like a rubber band. It’s easy to stretch a warm rubber band, but if you try to stretch a cold one, you’ll risk breaking it.

  • Always move into and out from a stretch with a slow controlled movement. This will also decrease the risk of suffering a strain or tear while stretching.

  • Your heart doesn’t have to work overly hard while resting at sleep. Circulation is normally at its worst point in the morning, NOT making it the optimal time to stretch.

  • DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH while you stretch. If you are holding your breath while stretching then perhaps you are putting too much strain on the muscles and need to back off a bit. You need to bread deep and try to relax while you stretch.

  • Never stretch to the point of pain. If it hurts, STOP.

  • Everyone has different degrees of flexibility. Do not compare yourself with others as it may lead to overstretching. Remember that everything should be done in a progression.

  • Avoid ballistic stretching and other high-force, short-duration stretches that use rapid bouncing motions or momentum if you not a high level trained athlete.

If you follow the above guidelines you can be prepared to enjoy all the great benefits that incorporating a good stretch routine can provide you with.

  • Enhanced muscular coordination

  • Improvement in posture

  • Reduction in muscle tension

  • Enhanced performance in sports, or daily activity

  • A delay from onset of muscle fatigue

  • An increased range of movement in the joints

  • Circulation improvement throughout the body

  • Increased energy levels from increased circulationReduction in Brain Fog (increased mental clarity)

  • Reduction in overall stress levels

  • Added enjoyment and satisfaction to your exercise program while reducing the chance of injuries.

Keep in mind that stretching is only a part of a healthy lifestyle and you should also incorporate healthy eating and exercising to your daily routine as well.

 

 

 

Plyometics

Today I’d like to talk a bit about the proper use of plyometric exercises to benefit speed in athletics.

Back in my days of playing university and college baseball, we took part in many grueling training practices that I now realize are the main cause of my bulging discs and torn meniscus.  They were all great exercises don’t get me wrong, just done improperly for what they are meant to accomplish. Baseball is a prime example of a power and speed sport with movements that are very explosive such as throwing, swinging, sprinting and jumping.

Many of our practices included numerous plyometric exercises like bounds, high knees, medicine ball work, sprints etc. which are great for increasing speed and velocity. What I didn’t realise back then and obviously neither did our coaches was that we didn’t need to be doing these exercises for 60 seconds at a time with about 10 seconds rest in between. Most coaches for some reason think that if the kids aren’t dropping to the floor in pain, throwing up and sweating from their eyeballs that they aren’t working hard enough. Not true. The entire time we were actually making ourselves slower by not allowing our nervous system to recover and causing extra strain and stress on our joints by doing the exercises for way too long and compromising the form. Of course our coach would keep saying that we would be the best conditioned team in the conference and there would be no chance we would get tired playing. Sure our cardiovascular systems were in great condition but the rest of our body was being broken down…and why do you need to have a great cardiovascular system for baseball anyway? The longest play might last a maximum of 10 seconds in a game. There was no wonder why at least 60% of my team was constantly in the training room getting taped and being sent to the Doctor for MRI’s for knee pain and back pain (myself included).

The truth about plyometrics is that they are meant to be done in very low reps or done over a short period of time and require very high rest intervals. This is so your neuromuscular system has time to recover as is takes much longer to recover from exercise than does your muscular system.  To move with more speed your body has to improve the nervous system recruitment.  If the rest is not sufficient then you will not tap into the full benefits of doing the plyometrics and maybe even find yourself getting slower!

When performing plyometric or “plyo” exercises, there is a quick shortening of the muscle fibers followed by and rapid or explosive lengthening of the muscle fibers. These dynamic explosive movements are primarily used to turn strength gains into increased speed. Examples would be Depth jumps or Clap push-ups. When incorporated into an athletes’ program plyos should fall between the power and speed development portion of a periodized program. Too often I witness programs were coaches miss the point of plyos and try to use them as strength training exercises.

A good dynamic warm-up should always be performed before doing plyos such as any workout for that matter. Be sure in the warm-up not to over exert, it’s a warm-up, not a workout. You want to be prepared, not so tired that you won’t benefit from the exercises.  If incorporating plyos into your program they should follow the warm up or any skill specific exercise, NOT at the end of the program but before any other strength exercise you have.

Too many trainers do far too many repetitions, accompanied by inadequate rest for the nervous system to recover.  To improve someone’s power and speed there must be this relation between the rep count and recovery for the nervous system. We must remember that this has little to do with elevating the heart rate. By doing too many reps or not allowing for enough rest you may be making someone slower.

We also need to recognize that if a client or athlete is not pre-conditioned or does not have experience in the weight room that they should not be doing these types of exercises until they have some sort of structural balance program completed and are prepared for higher impact forms of exercise.

When using plyometric exercises in your programs ask yourself what are you using them for? If the purpose is to gain speed then be sure to keep it low rep and high rest. Training for speed and training for stamina are two completely different protocols and should always be treated that way. It doesn’t make much sense for a coach to send his/her 100 meter sprinter out for a 10 kilometer jog, does it? Most definitely he will be training all those precious fast twitch muscle fibers to be slow twitch and making him/her slower.

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