Resistance Stretching

In yesterday’s post, I introduced you to microStretching.

Today, it’s Resistance Stretching….made famous by 40-something Olympic and World champion Dara Torres.

dara torres banner

In 2008, Resistance Stretching was Dara’s secret weapon at the Olympic Games in Beijing where she won three silver medals, broke her own personal best time in the 50m freestyle (trailing the gold medalist by 1/100th of a second) and became the oldest Olympic swimming medalist in history.

dara torres banner 2

Dara’s success as an older athlete is what got me interested in Resistance Stretching (RS).

So, I contacted Dara’s RS gurus Steve Sierra and Anne Tierney and grilled them with questions.

Here is some of what they had to say…

What is Resistance Stretching?

Resistance Stretching is based on the theories that:

  1. The stretching effect occurs during the entire movement of the muscle while it is being contracted, not just at the end point of the stretch…unlike traditional static stretching.
  2. A muscle must contract while elongating for a true stretch. Stretching a muscle without contracting produces a false range of motion known as substitution, and ultimately results in over-stretching and injury.
  3. Repetitions are necessary for gains in flexibility, just as repetitions are necessary for gains in strength during strength training.

How do I do it?

Resistance Stretching can be performed alone using self-stretches or with other person(s) using assisted stretching techniques.

Dara relied on assisted stretching to prepare her body for the Olympics.

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Unfortunately, you and I will most likely not have access to a team of trained Resistance Stretchers.

But don’t fret, my clients and I have had great success using the standard self-stretches as well as the variations that I MacGyvered on my own.

This video outlines some of the basic self-stretches.

Where you go from here is up to you.

Once you understand the basic concept of Resistance Stretching, you are only limited by your imagination. I am constantly coming up with new stretching variations.

Just follow these ffive steps

  1. Identify the muscle or muscle group that you want to stretch
  2. Start by flexing or shortening that muscle
  3. Tense the muscle
  4. Start stretching the muscle while simultaneously resisting the stretch
  5. Repeat

In a future post, I will provide videos of some of my favorite stretches. I just need to bribe one of my clients to let me record them and put it on the blog.


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  1. Not with two full time stretchers/torturers.

    However, I have used self-directed resistance stretching to repair the tight hips I earned through years of lifting very heavy weights. Years of static stretching never made a dent in my hip flexors & abductors.

  2. Interesting, but I still don’t quite get what all the jumping over her legs and back was about. Is that some form of myofascial release?

    Also, in Dara’s video she says that regular stretching was adding unnecessary bulk to her frame…huh?

    I would definitely need to see some more vids of this in action to really get what it’s all about.

  3. Hmm. I’ve never heard of this. My body might love this technique. I only recently started “behaving” by practicing good stretching. I was a delinquent.

  4. I love this article!! I have been reading this blog for quite sometime now, and this is my first comment. I would like to tell you that I enjoy reading this blog, and that I love thought provoking articles like this!

  5. I think Dara Torres’ resistance stretching kills the theories of microSTRETCHing.
    The theories of resistance stretching are spot on and similar to those of AiM (Anatomy in Motion) – the major difference is that all stretches are done upright and in motion increasing whole body tension and global awareness…
    Will give better results than static stretching for sure.

    Great stuff, thanks Doug

    Gary Ward

  6. This is actually a spin off of contract/relax and reciprical inhibition stretching. Physical Therapists use this type of stretching all the time. The physiological basis for contract/relax is that when you intially lengthen a muscle, the muscle spindle is stretched and there is a natural contraction that occurs to protect the muscle. This makes sense. After all you don’t want to stretch too far beyond a joint’s or muscle’s normal range. By contracting the muscle that is being stretched you can actually over-ride this response and further elongate the muscle. For a SLR HS stretch you can simply take a person to their comfortable end range and then ask them to push down into your shoulder effectively contracting the HS, that is the contract…then you cue them to relax and as you do you pick up the slack…then you repeat.

    Reciprical inhibition is when you contract the antagonist muscle. As a protective mechanism a contraction in a muscle like the quad reflexively inhibits the hamstrings. Again this makes sense. The last thing you want to happen when you are contracting the quads if for the hamstrings to simultaneously tighten. So tightening the quad(or performing a quad set) during a hamstring strech will allow a greater stretch because it reflexively inhibits activity in the HS.

    As a Physical Therapist, I can tell you the mechanism behind both approaches is well understood and both are effective ways to stretch. So if someone is really interested in this approach you can also research contract/relax and reciprical inhibition.

  7. @Shaun – would you mind giving it a try and telling me what you think about it?

    In my experience, resistance stretching feels nothing like contract/relax stretching. It’s a very unique feeling to stretch while resisting the stretch. And yet, it’s very natural.

    Watch a cat or dog stretch upon getting up from lying on the floor – they do an isometric version of resistance stretching

  8. I totally believe that people will see results with this type of stretching. I was always taught to do contract/relax by actually advancing through the stretch during the resistance or contract phase…which is essentially, I think, what they are doing during resistance stretching. I don’t generally start from a fully shortened position. Basically, I will pick up about 75% of the slack and then ask the patient to resist as I slowly move them into their end range. When we get to the “end range”, I will back off just a little and then do again, always gaining more range, but always advancing during the contraction or while the patient is resisting the motion.

    From the clips provided, it looks like this person knowing the physiology behind muscle response to stretch has added his own little flare, which is GREAT and why I believe nothing trumps understanding the science of movement.

    The advantage to this particular approach is that patient’s/clients never get a chance to guard or let the protective mechanisms kick in. The disadvantage is clients/patients overcompensating and resisting too much if that makes sense. And in the case of injury, this type of stretching may not be an option.

    I personally think that there are lots of ways to get results if you understand what is happening when you do something.

    I would say about 75%-85% of the stretching people do is probably useless, because of the mechanisms at work in our bodies to protect the muscle. There are also lots of things that limit range or mimick tightness. True muscle shortenss or shortening of the non-conctractile tissue is different from functional muscle tightness.

    In my opinion, and not being an expert on all the nuances of this particular technigue, resistance stretching focuses primarily on functionl muscle tightness. There is a big difference though between a muscle that is truly shortened physiologically and one that is not able to work through it’s entire range. Both contribute to movement dysfunction. And it is difficult to stretch non-contractile tisse or increase real muscle length if you can’t get past functional tightness which is the real strength of this particular approach.

    I agree, this looks like good stuff. Definitely harder to do on your own…but not impossible.

  9. I find that it works well with big muscle groups – lats, quads, hams. But not so well for the smaller/shorter ROM muscles

  10. I see that this post is pretty old. Are people still using the method to stretch?

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