Isostatic stretching, also known as passive isometric stretching, is a method of flexibility training that can help you achieve a greater range of motion for activities like dancing, martial arts or gymnastics. With isostatic stretching, you use your muscles’ tendency to contract against a stretch to create longer muscles. Be careful when performing an isostatic stretch, since it can lead to injuries like a strained or pulled muscle.
How Isostatic Stretching Works
When you stretch, some muscles lengthen and others do not. However, you can lengthen muscle fibers which would otherwise be at rest by using a partner or other outside source like a chair or wall. After naturally contracting against the stretch, the muscles will relax over the next several seconds, becoming accustomed to the lengthened position. The muscles are held in the lengthened position for several seconds, and an outside source is then used to stretch them further.
Feel the Stretch, Not Pain
An example of using an outside source to help you stretch would be to lie on your back and lift your leg until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. As your muscles become more comfortable in this position, have a partner push your leg a little farther while you try to force it to the ground. This pushing motion against the stretch will help your muscles become used to working toward a maximum stretch. You should stretch far enough that you feel a mild discomfort, but not to the point that you feel a sharp pain, since this can lead to injury.
What You Should Know
You should rest for at least two days between isostatic stretching sessions in order to allow your muscles time to heal. For example, stretch on the days when you're not competing in an athletic event, ensuring that you have a couple of days of rest before your muscles have to perform at their peak. Be sure you only perform one isostatic stretch per muscle group in a single stretching session. Hold each stretch for eight to 15 seconds to allow your muscles to relax during the stretch.
Isostatic stretching can be dangerous because you’re forcing your muscles beyond their normal comfort level. It should not be performed by anyone under the age of 18 due to the chances of injury. Always be sure to warm up prior to stretching by performing five to 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise and some light stretching. This warm up and light stretching will get the blood flowing to your muscles, decreasing your chances of injury and increasing the effectiveness of the stretch.
Keith Strange spent more than a decade as a staff writer for newspapers in the southeastern United States, winning numerous awards for his work. He has a B.S. in wellness/sports medicine from Averett University and completed graduate work in exercise physiology. Strange is a former competitive martial artist and holds a third-degree black belt in tae kwon do.