One of the most neglected parts of training for any sport is stretching. Even for non-athletes, stretching is equally important in achieving ultimate physical health.
Most people don’t even realize that they should be stretching daily to keep the muscles healthy, strong, and flexible.
Simple stretching routines are effective in preventing muscle tightening that leads to a higher risk of incurring injuries. However, for those looking for a more extensive stretching routine, PNF stretching provides an excellent way to stretch more effectively than ever before.
PNF Stretching Defined
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation or PNF stretching is a next-level form of flexibility exercises. Developed in the 1940s by Dr. Hernan Kabat to treat neuromuscular conditions (such as polio and multiple sclerosis), it has since become popular among physical therapists and fitness professionals.
The technique was initially incorporated as part of neuromuscular rehabilitation programs, designed to relax muscles and increase their tone or activity. Thus, it has become essential in athletics as a method of increasing the flexibility of athletes.
PNF techniques are usually performed with a partner and involve active and passive (isometric and concentric) muscle actions.
At present, PNF stretching has already spread in mainstream gyms and has been widely regarded as the most effective stretching technique for increasing range of motion.
Three muscle actions enable the passive stretch during PNF exercises. Both isometric and concentric muscle actions are done before a passive stretch to achieve self-generated or autogenic inhibition.
There are several PNF stretching techniques, yet all of them rely on stretching muscles to their limits. These exercises trigger a protective reflex that calms the muscles and is proven effective in preventing injuries.
The PNF techniques are as follows:
This PNF technique begins with a passive pre-stretch and is held at a point of mild discomfort for about 10 seconds. The exercise partner then applies a hip flexion force while asking the athlete to stay put and resist any movement so that isometric muscle action takes place. The athlete then relaxes, and a passive stretch is held for another 30 seconds. This PNF technique’s final phase should be of greater magnitude due to the hamstrings’ activation and other autogenic inhibition forms.
The contract-relax PNF technique, also known as isotonic stretching, is almost identical to hold-relax, except that the muscle is contracted while moving. It starts with a passive pre-stretch as well (usually of the hamstrings).
Like the Hold-Relax method, this stretch is also held at a point of mild discomfort for ten seconds. Afterward, the athlete extends the hip against resistance coming from the exercise partner. This enables a concentric muscle action through the full range of motion (ROM) to take place.
After briefly relaxing, the athlete receives a passive hip flexion stretch and is held for 30 seconds. Finally, autogenic inhibition facilitates an increase in the athlete’s full ROM.
The third technique in PNF stretching is the hold-relax-contract method. It resembles the hold-relax approach in the first two phases then deviates upon reaching the third. Instead of relaxing into a passive stretch, the athlete actively pushes into it. A concentric action is used together with the passive stretch to provide an added force.
After the isometric hold, the athlete flexes the hip and moves further into the new ROM as a result.
For instance, in a hamstring stretch, the athlete engages the muscles to further raise the leg while the trainer pushes in the same direction.
The hold-relax-contract is regarded as the most effective PNF stretching technique among the three. It provides the benefits of both reciprocal and autogenic inhibition.
PNF Stretching Benefits
PNF stretching is proven to enhance both active and passive ranges of motion. Everybody can utilize PNF techniques to supplement their daily, static, stretching routines. Athletes get to enjoy improved performance, as well as speedy gains in their range of motion. PNF stretching not only helps in increasing their flexibility but improves their muscular strength as well.
Compared to traditional and static stretching techniques, PNF is more dependable when it comes to improving ROM. Furthermore, PNF stretching can be relied upon to:
- Target specific muscle groups
- Prevent knots
- Realign muscle fibers and connective tissue after microscopic damage caused by high-intensity workouts
PNR Stretching as Part of a Daily Routine
While PNF stretches are ideally performed with a partner, they can also be self-administered.
To perform an auto-PNF hamstring stretch, individuals simply have to place their foot on a chair or bench to do a static stretch, followed by an isometric contraction and another static stretch.
Practitioners agree that this is an equally effective manner to reap the rewards of PNF stretching.
When (or When Not) to Use PNF Stretching
Before incorporating PNF methods into their training, aspiring PNF stretching practitioners should do the following:
Think if PNF Stretching is Really Needed
This goes to inexperienced athletes whose main aim is to improve their stretching ability. In which case, static stretching is enough for the time being. Not only are the methods of static stretching simpler to do, but the chances of performing them incorrectly are also lower. Thus, there’s minimal risk of getting injured while the chances of achieving desired goals are just as high.
Always Ensure that the Correct Movement is Followed Every Time
The fundamental mistake that some practitioners make is think that PNF is just simple stretching. However, the processes involved can get more technical, heightening the risk of injury, especially if movements are not done correctly.
To prevent this from happening, seeking expert advice or professional help from personal trainers are recommended.
PNF Stretches Should Only Be Performed on Certain Muscle Groups
PNF stretching methods should only be applied to long kinetic muscle chains, such as the hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, back, etc.
They aren’t recommended on specific muscle groups because of the adverse effects they can cause. For instance, the rotator cuff can become too loose in the shoulders, causing the joint to come out of its socket.
PNF is an advanced form of stretching exercise that is recommended to achieve optimum ROM. It allows practitioners to target specific muscle groups that they aim to strengthen.
The success of PNF methods depends on key factors, such as:
- The PNF technique being employed
- How advanced the athlete is and their specific type of goal
- The muscle group being targeted
- When the stretching session is performed in relation to exercise
In general, PNF stretches are highly-effective given that all the steps are performed correctly, with recommendations from an expert or professional trainer.
For more stretching exercises and other routines for athletes and non-athletes alike, visit our website.