Unlike standard stretching, which extends a muscle and then relaxes it at its longest point, resistance stretching starts the muscle at its shortest point and pushes it to its longest point, all the while using the person’s own body to resist the stretch. This allows the muscle to both contract and lengthen at the same time, improving both flexibility and strength. Proponents of resistance stretching claim that by contracting the muscle at the same time as it is lengthened, the muscle is allowed to truly stretch and strengthen itself. It can be done solo with little to no equipment or with a trainer.
This form of exercise is part of the Meridian Flexibility System and is based on proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching (PNF stretching), which was developed in the 1940s as a form of physical therapy for paralysis patients. Resistance stretching is believed to both remove joint stress and correct bone alignment. It is now used by many athletes in place of traditional stretching and was made popular in the year 2000 by Olympic gold medalist Dara Torres, who stated resistance stretching was her “secret weapon."
Resistance stretching typically uses the body’s own weight or strength against itself during a stretch, limiting the need for equipment. A good example of this is crossing the arms in front of the face vertically and moving one arm to the side while the other arm pushes against it. This move is believed to release tension and create space in the shoulders. This and other exercises can also be done with a stretch band or rolled towel, which allows for better control over the stretch.
Resistance stretching can also be done with a trainer. This method can provide for a much better stretch, because the participant is using both his or her body and the trainer’s body as a source of resistance. The participant is put in any number of positions and made to stretch while the trainer pushes against the target area.
While many believe that resistance stretching sounds painful, proponents of this exercise claim the exact opposite. Those who practice resistance stretching claim that, while the stretches themselves are difficult, they are not painful at all, especially when compared to the stretches used in traditional exercise. Proponents of resistance stretching also report feeling looser and stronger following resistance stretching, saying it allows them to heal old injuries and prevent new ones. While the science of this exercise is up for debate, it continues to gather a tremendous following.