How Do PNF Techniques Affect Muscular Function and Range of Motion?

by | Apr 26, 2021 | Fitness Exercises

Now that we already know about the different PNF stretches and when to incorporate them into our training routine, we can dive deeper into how PNF techniques bring about the increase in range of motion and the strength and athletic performance of an individual. 

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching is an advanced form of flexibility training that involves the stretching and contraction of your muscles. Recent research has focused on the efficacy of PNF on various outcome measures, including passive range of motion (PRoM), active range of motion (ARoM), and peak torque and muscular strength. 

Before proceeding, let us keep in mind that researches behind stretching have mainly been inconclusive in exploring the impact of static stretching (SS), ballistic stretching (BS), and PNF stretching on outcome measures like injury prevention and athletic performance.

However, numerous findings do show that PNF positively affects both active and passive range of movements. The said results sufficiently justify using PNF methods within athletic and therapeutic settings to aid in rehabilitating injuries or performance improvement by gaining ARoM and PRoM.

Effects of PNF Techniques on: 

Muscular Function

Applying PNF techniques into your routine has long been regarded to improve performance and lower your risk of getting injured during exercise. 

While PNF stretches may hamper your showing in high-intensity exercises, they enhance your performance in low-intensity activities such as jogging. According to a study on the impact of PNF and static stretch training on running mechanics, a five-week PNF stretching protocol resulted in a substantial improvement in both stride rate and stride duration.

In addition, PNF stretching is also useful in enhancing muscular strength, according to a separate study about the effectiveness of PNF versus weight training for the enhancement of muscular strength and athletic performance. Specifically, those in the PNF group showed a much-improved vertical jump and throwing distance compared to those in the weight training group. They accomplished PNF stretches twice a week for eight weeks, with each session consisting of three sets of six against the maximal force on both lower and upper extremities.

These results conclusively show that PNF techniques enhance force production and functional movements. One particular study indicates that PNF is more beneficial than strength training in improving the strength and performance of athletes and untrained individuals in eight weeks. 

Therefore, you should perform PNF stretching at least twice a week post-exercise to trigger improvements in muscle strength, power, and athleticism.

Range of Motion

These are studies conducted to verify and test the effects of PNF stretching on RoM: 

In a study of 40 undergraduate student-athletes, researchers compared the efficacy of PNF stretching versus static stretching on hamstring flexibility performed with or without exercise. After an hour of exercise or no exercise, every participant performed each stretching method for five minutes. Results show that those who executed PNF stretching routines increased their flexibility compared to the baseline group without exercise and PNF. 

Forty-three participants were recruited to study the effect of varying contraction durations during PNF stretching on hip flexion ROM. Each subject was assigned to three groups: five-second isometric contractions, ten-second isometric contractions, and the control group. 

The two treatment groups performed the CRAC method of PNF twice a week for six weeks, with at least a 24-hour interval between treatments. Everybody does a five-minute warm-up, a five-minute static stretch, and three sets of two CRAC method PNF stretches. For both methods, the participants held the isometric contraction of the hamstrings for the duration of their time.  

After three weeks and six treatments of the CRAC method of PNF, significant improvements were observed in both treatment groups. Results show that the longer time you spend on stretching aids in achieving greater flexion ROM.

Ninety-seven randomly selected elderly athletes were examined to closely monitor the changes in their hamstring flexibility after stretching before exercise in an elderly population. 

Results show that age affects the flexibility gains in the CR method. Specifically, the soft tissues typically affected by PNF methods are changed as age increases. These are the same tissues that receive the neural inhibition provided by PNF to reduce reflex activity and promote relaxation, resulting in greater ROM. 

Conclusion

As we advance in age, myofibrils are replaced by connective tissue when soft-tissue matrices lose elasticity and strength. These changes make older muscles more susceptible to contraction-induced injury.

The results of these studies on ROM  indicate that both CR and CRAC PNF methods increase ROM and flexibility of all the subjects at any rate of the maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC). You can also rely on PNF techniques for increased muscular power and strength, especially after exercise. 

Just keep in mind to be consistent and follow proper protocol to achieve and maintain the benefits of PNF techniques. 

PNF Stretching Routines

The following are some of the PNF Stretching exercises that you can perform (some with the help of a partner) for increased ROM and muscular functionality:

PNF Hamstring Stretch 

  • While lying on your back, have your flexologist or training partner raise one of your legs, hold it straight up in the air, then gently move it toward your chest. 
  • Hold this position for about 10-30 seconds, then press against the stretch for 5-6 seconds before relaxing. 
  • Right after, your training partner will push the stretch out even further for 10-30 seconds. 
  • Rest momentarily before repeating the steps on your other leg.

Partner Quad Stretch 

  • Lie with your stomach on a mat, with your arms down your sides.
  • Make your partner kneel on your right side, one hand on your ankle and the other on your lower back for support. When you’re ready, have your partner press your ankle towards your glutes. In the process, you should feel a stretch in your quadriceps. 
  • Let your partner press down for 10 seconds.
  • After the 10 seconds are up, push your foot against your partner’s hand for 5 seconds. Do this as if you’re driving the back of your foot towards the floor. 
  • Relax your muscles after the contraction and have your partner push your ankle down for another 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the steps, this time on the other side.

PNF Partner Chest Stretch 

  • Sit comfortably on the floor with your legs in front of you. Keep your chest up and your back straight. Place your hands behind your head and interlace your fingers.
  • Ask your partner to stand behind you and place his or her hands on the inside of your elbows. Have them pull back on your elbows until you feel a stretch in your chest and front deltoid muscles. Hold for at least 10 seconds.
  • After 10 seconds, aim to bring your elbows in toward your midline while going against your partner’s resistance. Keep the contraction for 6 seconds.
  • Finish the routine by relaxing and allowing your chest to stretch further for the next 30 seconds. During this time, work on contracting your upper back for even greater pectoral ROM.

PNF Calf Self Stretch

  • Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. While holding both ends of a towel or band, loop the middle around the pad of your foot. 
  • Pull-on the band or towel to get your toes closer to your shin. Hold in place for 10 seconds.
  • Keep the tension on the band while pressing against it for 6 seconds.
  • After 6 seconds, relax your calf and allow your toes to come back toward your shin. Hold for 30 seconds. Contract your anterior tibialis (the muscle in front of your shin) during this period for increased calf ROM.
  • Repeat the steps on the opposite leg.

Key Takeaway

When it comes to utilizing PNF stretching to its full potential, keep things simple and remember the basics: contract, relax, breathe, and stretch. Let your brain and body, neuromuscular system and reflexes, do all the necessary work. You may push yourself to the limit but proceed with extreme caution. Don’t hesitate to consult with a trained professional for tips and advice.

 

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