Active Isolated Stretching

Exercise that Can Increase Strength and Flexibility, Eliminate Pain and Improve Overall Health

Dr. Haggquist.

Jeffrey Haggquist was a massage therapist who had an injured shoulder from years of playing sports. It was uncomfortable, and as the years progressed, his ability to lift his arm deteriorated. Dr. Haggquist thought the pain and immobility was permanent until he met Aaron Mattes and discovered Active Isolated Stretching (AIS).

“AIS helped me restore the range of motion to my shoulder,” he said as he happily raised his arm straight up and down several times alongside his head. “I would have lost much of its movement and mobility.” Dr. Haggquist became a devoted practitioner of AIS. He studied with kineosiologist Aaron Mattes, who created AIS almost 40 years ago. “Aaron encouraged me to go to medical school.”

After 17 years of practicing massage therapy, Dr. Haggquist became a physician and in 2006 founded QuistMD, the Flexibility, Sports, and Rehabilitation Clinic in northwest Washington. The clinic is a mecca for injured athletes, people who are frustrated by chronic pain, who have neck and back injuries or who just want to feel better. “We use many techniques, but the core of our therapy is AIS,” said Haggquist.

Active Isolated Stretching uses four basic principles: isolate the muscle to be stretched; repeat the stretch at least 10 times; hold each stretch for no more than two seconds, and breathe through the stretch.

Why Active Isolated Stretching Works

When a stretch is held for longer than two seconds, a protective mechanism called "myotatic stretch reflex" is triggered. This reflex is our body’s natural protection against strains, sprains and tears. However in athletic performance, injury rehabilitation or the desire to instill lasting changes in the body, this reflex is undesirable. When the stretch reflex is initiated, the muscle being stretched begins to contract, inhibiting blood flow and depleting oxygen which is not good for rehabilitation or performance improvement.

The perfect environment to stretch a muscle is when it is relaxed. AIS achieves this with every stretch. AIS stretches are "active"-- meaning the person being stretched actually helps move his/her own body part with his/her own muscles, before assistance with a strap or another person is used. This enhances the stretch because actively working muscles helps to increase the temperature of the muscles and fascia. It also improves circulation and increases elasticity and strength of the muscle and fascia.


AIS can result in what some may call “miracles” on people who think they are lost causes. One man, who understood osteopathy, walked into QuistMD offices hunched over with back pain and misalignment. “I worked with him for an hour and he left standing upright.” Dr. Haggquist said he released spasms in the man’s gluteus and lower back and used AIS to stretch the lower body that released the man’s mechanical stress.

The benefits of AIS also can include an enhanced immune system and an improved feeling of well-being because of increased flexibility.

According to Dr. Haggquist, AIS helps patients learn to identify areas of their bodies that need work, and then target specific muscles and joints with short-duration stretches. Through AIS, patients can experience decreased pain, improved joint flexibility and balance, expanded range of motion, increased muscle strength and restoration of physical function.

Since meeting Dr. Haggquist in September, I have used basic AIS exercises with most of my clients. Responses immediately after performing the exercises have been, “Amazing. I can’t believe how well my neck (arm, leg, etc.,) feels.”; “I didn’t know how tight my quads were.”, “That felt really good.” All of my clients felt relief from stiffness, felt greater range of motion and fluidity in joints.

Dr. Haggquist practices what he preaches and showed me the AIS exercise routine he does before bed each night to maintain strength and flexibility. It only took a few minutes to complete.

“You can’t do too many AIS stretches,” he explained. “You can do them until you lose form, or until you achieve your desired range of motion.” He also explained that AIS can be used to develop flexibility or maintain it. “You learn where you are flexible so you do fewer repetitions on those areas. Where you are tight you do more.”

Dr. Haggquist’s clinic recently began to work with patients from the Georgetown Breast Care Center. “AIS is great for helping realign scar tissue.”

I can’t think of anyone who could not benefit from AIS. Dr. Haggquist has helped people with arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and MS. He’s taught the technique to hundreds of MDs and trained staffs in medical offices.

AIS can be done by yourself or with assistance of a trainer or therapist. It can make you feel better, move better and enjoy life more and it’s non-discriminating. Anyone can do it and anyone, from a high school athlete to an aging grandmother, can achieve lasting benefits.

AIS education materials are available at the Dr. Haggquist’s clinic or from Aaron Mattes’ website: Aaron Mattes’ book is calledActive Isolated Stretching: the Mattes Method.

For more information about QuistMD The Flexibility, Sports and Rehabilitation Clinic log onto:; or call: 202-244-7432.

Pattie Cinelli is a personal trainer specializing in pre/postnatal exercise, mind/body balance for weight loss programs and functional training. She teaches a variety of techniques including yoga and Pilates. Contact her at:

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