Phil Wharton and Active Isolated Flexibility

If you’ve read this blog then you’ve probably heard me refer to my friend Phil Wharton, who I had the chance to spend a week with last summer at the Nike Elite Camp. He’s a great therapist and accomplished runner, yet his greatest contribution to the sport is his teaching of the Active Isolated Flexibility (AIF), which I have in the past referred to Active Isolated Stretching (AIS). The AIF stretches that Phil teaches are a must for any serious runner and many of the top US distance runners can be seen doing these stretches as part of the their training. I encourage you to take the time to watch the video, then go to Home Depot and spend $10 on a rope (I believe 8 feet, 8 inches is what they recommend) and do these stretches. The science behind the stretching – to get a stretch but not so much that you damage the muscle or injure the golgi tendon organs – is sound and after just three weeks of doing this you’ll see the results in terms of your suppleness and range of motion.

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  • CoachJay

    For what it's worth, these athletes all looked good doing the stretches.  I've seen much less range of motion in most distance runners.  Would be curious to know how long the athletes in the videos have been doing the routine.

  • Greg

    Evening Coach Jay!
    Love your site, been using your 4 week strength progression to get ready for my 3rd NYC marathon.  Question though on AIS.  When they say to contract the opposing muscle, does that mean to actively attempt to contract it, which I find hard to do?  Or is the act of doing the type of stretches they show simply contracting the opposite muscle?  Would love to go over to the city and take a class, but I barely have the time to run….  Keep up the good work.
    Thanks Greg

  • CoachJay

    If you watch the hamstring stretch, the idea is that the quad is contracting.  So you're contracting the quad as you bring the foot over your hip (then over your head if you're flexible) and that helps the hamstring get the proper stretch.  So “Active” refers to the contracted quad and “Isolated” refers to the muscle you're trying to stretch.

    …but don't take my word for it.  Feel free to ask Phil in the comments section of the podcast page.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Greg

    Thanks for the reply!  That makes sense now, now off to stretch!  Keep up the awesome work!

  • Joel Wolpert

    Most of the athletes had been doing AIF for a while. If I recall, only the fellow doing the Hip Abductor stretch, Colin Eustis, was new to the club and the Wharton experience.

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  • maryhui

    This is interesting – thank you for this. I recently began to incorporate yoga into my training program in the hopes of increasing flexibility and ROM. A lot of yoga positions are static, though. I wonder whether AIS would be a better stretching method to use?
    — @marhui