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September 4, 2012 | Exam Preparation Blog

What's the Difference between Autogenic and Reciprocal Inhibition?

stretch reflexAutogenic and reciprocal inhibition both occur when certain muscles are inhibited from contracting due to the activation of the Golgi tendon organ (GTO) and the muscle spindles. These two musculotendinous proprioceptors located in and around the joints and muscles respond to changes in muscle tension and length, which helps manage muscular control and coordination.

The GTO, located between the muscle belly and its tendon, senses increasedtension when the muscle contracts or stretches. When the muscle contracts, the GTO is activated and responds by inhibiting this contraction (reflex inhibition) and contracting the opposing (antagonist) muscle group. This process is known as autogenic inhibition.

The GTO response plays an important role in flexibility. When the GTO inhibits the (agonist) muscle’s contraction and allows the antagonist muscle to contract more readily, the muscle can be stretched further and easier. Autogenic inhibition is often seen during static stretching, such as during a low-force, long-duration stretch. After 7 to 10 seconds, muscle tension increases and activates the GTO response, causing the muscle spindle in the stretched muscle to be inhibited temporarily, which makes it possible to stretch the muscle further.

The muscle spindle is located within the muscle belly and stretches along with the muscle itself. When this occurs, the muscle spindle is activated and causes a reflexive contraction in the agonist muscle (known as the stretch reflex) and relaxation in the antagonist muscle. This process is known as reciprocal inhibition.

Reciprocal inhibition is often seen during dynamic stretching. One example is when an individual is able to increase their vertical jump height when they squat down (incorporating a pre-stretch) prior to jumping, versus an athlete who jumps up after holding a static squat position for several seconds.

Here is a table to help understand how both types of inhibition affect the agonist and antagonist muscle groups:


Autogenic Inhibition

Reciprocal Inhibition

Agonist Muscle Group



Antagonist Muscle Group



By Christopher Gagliardi

Chris Gagliardi is the Study Assistance Administrator at ACE. Chris holds a BS in Kinesiology from San Diego State University, as well as a Certificate in Orthotics from Northwestern University Fienberg School of Medicine. As an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, as well as a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and NASM certified personal trainer, Chris takes great pride in sharing his enthusiasm for fitness with others and is committed to life time of learning. The idea of leading a healthy lifestyle was first introduced to Chris at the age of 12 when his father brought him to the gym for the first time. This first gym experience ignited a passion for life long fitness that would only grow stronger as the years went on. Chris has worked in the field of Health and Fitness in many capacities over the past 10 years, working with both youth and adult populations.

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