I recently attended an Aaron Mattes advanced seminar in the States. For those who don’t know, Aaron Mattes is the founder of Active Isolated Stretching and the leader on this subject, having pioneered and perfected his method for over 40 years.
Anyone who is working to improve the function of the musculoskeletal system does this by positively affecting flexibility and strength. These are the cornerstones that allow a pain free range of motion that is adequately strong and sustainable for correct posture and awareness. Mobility should be established first, followed by a systematic progression of strengthening exercises. Many methods can be used to achieve this, including Pilates, yoga, or regimented physical therapy routines that may involve specific stretches and hands on techniques.
The advantage of the Mattes approach however is that it is very specific and methodical in nature. This allows for easier and more thorough application by the therapist and offers a complete educational experience for the client. The stretching protocols are designed so that the client can easily practice them and appropriate homework routines are assigned after each session. There is a sequential protocol for each joint that assesses and treats the tissues. Tight and unstable areas are identified and simultaneously addressed. For example there are 6 different stretches for the hamstring muscle group. It is usually found that certain aspects of the muscle group have become tighter than others and unless all these positions are manipulated, the client is sent away with imbalances in the tissues that could prove detrimental for activity or for the resolution of a chronic injury.
One of the major features of A.I.S is that the client must be totally engaged in the process. The specific positioning of the joint throughout the movement, proper cuing of client participation, the exact positioning of the therapist’s hands, timing of the stretch to less than 2.0 seconds to avoid the stretch reflex, and the constant monitoring of client breathing for maximum oxygen delivery to the tissues are variables that have to be constantly monitored. But at the same time these are the details that can make the technique fast acting with sustainable results. There are several different positions that can be used. Some minimise the effects of gravity for weaker subjects so as not to load an injured or weak joint, while others use gravity to allow the joint to work harder for maximum effect and performance.
Although the word “stretching” appears in the name of the technique, the more complete title is Mattes Method Active Isolated Stretching and Strengthening. This is because after mobility is achieved, functional strength has to follow for optimal results and for the resolution of injuries and conditions. Gaining this functional strength is one of the most appreciated benefits of the Mattes approach. Having an elderly person be able to get on and off the toilet without pain, and the business traveller be able to shoulder his or her luggage without worrying that their rotator cuff will fall apart are normal bi-products of Aaron’s systematic philosophy. While I was on the course I was gratified to receive some very encouraging compliments from Aaron. It never hurts to hear this from the best!