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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

What is PNF Stretching? Transform Your Body in Just Minutes a Day!


If you are looking for a way to improve your flexibility, range of motion (ROM) and strength, you may want to try PNF stretching. PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation and is a way of stretching that involves both passive stretching with isometric muscle contractions; it is one of the most effective stretching techniques for short-term improvement in flexibility, active ROM and passive ROM.


WHAT IS PNF STRETCHES
Stretching Goals

PNF stretching was developed by Dr. Herman Kabat in the 1940s to treat neuromuscular conditions such as polio and multiple sclerosis. Since then, it has been widely used by physical therapists, athletes, dancers, and anyone who wants to enhance their mobility and performance. I often use it on my patients to help improve their posture and flexibility.


"PNF stretching is one of the most effective ways to increase range of motion, improve flexibility, and reduce risk of injury." - Dr. Mark Kovacs, Director of the Life Enhancement and Athletic Performance Program at the Stanford School of Medicine

In this post, we'll delve into two main styles of PNF stretching techniques, explain how you can incorporate them into your own fitness routine, and explore the numerous benefits of PNF stretching. So, let's dive in!

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

WHAT IS PNF STRETCHING? AND HOW CAN I DO IT?


PNF stretching, which stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, is a stretching technique that involves a combination of muscle contraction and stretching. The goal of PNF stretching is to increase range of motion and flexibility, while also improving muscle strength and coordination.


PNF stretching uses isometric muscle contractions which is:

A type of muscle contraction in which the muscle generates force without changing its length.

In other words, the muscle is contracted, but there is no movement at the joint. Isometric contractions can be used in a variety of exercises and movements, such as holding a plank position, pushing against an immovable object, or gripping a heavy object without lifting it.


Isometric contractions can be useful for developing muscular strength, as they require the muscle to generate force against resistance without actually moving.


The two main types of PNF stretching techniques are the Contract-Relax (CR) method and the Contract-Relax-Antagonist-Contract (CRAC) method. The Contract portion of the movement is an isometric contraction.


What is PNF Stretch
PNF Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation

CONTRACT-RELAX METHOD (CR)


1. CONTRACT

The muscle being stretched is placed in a stretched position. Contract that muscle against resistance for 5-10 seconds.


2. RELAX

After the contraction, the muscle is relaxed and passively stretched (you can use a prop if needed like a strap, or a partner). Hold this passive stretch for 10-30 seconds.


3. REPEAT

Repeat steps 1&2 for 2-4 more times and continue to gain greater range of motion with every round of contract/relax.



what is PNF stretches
PNF Stretching Hamstrings

EXAMPLE

Stretch your hamstring with a strap. Lay on your back, place a strap around your foot, and place your hamstring in a stretched position. Perform an isometric contraction of the hamstring (push down against the strap). Relax and stretch your leg through greater range of motion. Repeat.

 


What is PNF Stretching
Assisted PNF Stretch


CONTRACT-RELAX-ANTAGONIST-CONTRACT METHOD (CRAC)


1. CONTRACT

The muscle being stretched is contracted isometrically for about 5-10 seconds against resistance. This contraction is done in the same direction as the muscle action.


2. RELAX

The muscle is then relaxed, and a passive stretch is applied to the muscle for about 10-30 seconds. The passive stretch is usually performed by a partner or with the help of a prop such as a strap or ball.


3. ANTAGONIST CONTRACTION

The antagonist muscle, which opposes the muscle being stretched, is contracted isometrically for about 5-10 seconds. This contraction is done in the opposite direction to the muscle action.


4. RELAX

The antagonist muscle is then relaxed, and the stretch is held passively again for about 10-30 seconds.


5. REPEAT

Repeat the process 2-4 more times for maximum benefit.



EXAMPLE

Stretch your hamstring with a strap. Lay on your back, place a strap around your foot, and place your hamstring in a stretched position. Perform an isometric contraction of the hamstring (push down against the strap). Relax and stretch your leg through greater range of motion. Contract your quadricep in the opposite direction. Relax and stretch your leg through greater ROM and hold for 10-30 sec. Repeat.
 

WHY PNF STRETCHING WORKS


PNF stretching is thought to be effective because it stimulates the body's proprioceptors, which are sensory receptors that provide information about body position and movement.


When you stretch the same muscle or its opposite (antagonist) muscle right after stretching it, you can override this reflex and relax the muscle further.


This is because another type of sensory receptor called Golgi tendon organ (GTO) senses the tension in the muscle and sends inhibitory signals to the spinal cord. These signals reduce the activity of the muscle spindles and allow more lengthening of the muscle.

 



WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PNF STRETCHING?


1. INCREASES YOUR PASSIVE RANGE OF MOTION (ROM)

PNF stretching is particularly effective at increasing your passive range of motion, which refers to the range of motion that can be achieved without any external assistance or muscle activation. It is what we think of when we think about flexibility. During PNF stretching, the muscle is allowed to be stretched past its limit, allowing for increased flexibility and ROM.


2. INCREASES YOUR ACTIVE RANGE OF MOTION

Active range of motion (AROM) refers to the range of motion that can be achieved by actively contracting the muscles surrounding a joint. In other words, it is the range of motion that you can achieve on your own, without any external assistance or resistance.


3. IMPROVES NEUROMUSCULAR COORDINATION

Improving neuromuscular coordination refers to the ability of the nervous system and muscles to work together more efficiently and effectively. It involves the ability of the brain to communicate with the muscles and direct them to move in a coordinated manner, with the right amount of force and at the right time.


4. CAN IMPROVE MUSCULAR STRENGTH

PNF stretching involves contracting the stretched muscle for a few seconds, which helps to activate more muscle fibers than traditional stretching. By activating more muscle fibers, PNF stretching can help you build strength more effectively.


5. REDUCED PAIN AND STIFFNESS

PNF stretching can increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to your body, helping to flush out waste products and deliver nutrients and oxygen to your muscles, which can help them recover more quickly after exercise.


6. INJURY PREVENTION

By improving joint stability and alignment, injuries are minimized. and prevented. This type of stretching can help correct muscle imbalances, which typically lead to joint instability and increased risk of injury.


7. IMPROVES POSTURE

PNF is great for correcting muscle imbalances and malalignments! As a result, your posture is improved which has a whole host of benefits on its own.


8. ENHANCES RELAXATION

Finally, PNF stretching can help you relax and reduce stress by promoting deep breathing and relaxation, helping you unwind and feel more centered.

 



HOW TO ADD PNF INTO YOUR FITTNESS ROUTINE


PNF stretching can be a valuable addition to your fitness routine, but it's important to use it correctly to maximize its benefits. One important consideration is the timing of PNF stretching in relation to other forms of exercise.


Studies have shown that PNF stretching performed prior to exercise can actually decrease performance in maximal effort exercises, as it can temporarily reduce power output. Therefore, it's best to perform PNF stretching after a workout, when the muscles have already been warmed up.

To add PNF stretching to your fitness routine, start by identifying which muscle groups you want to target. Some common areas for PNF stretching include the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and hips. Next, select a PNF stretching technique, such as the CR or CRAC method, and follow the steps outlined for that technique.


It's important to note that PNF stretching should not be performed every day. Instead, aim to incorporate 2 PNF stretching sessions per week to maintain the effects. You can perform PNF stretching on its own or as part of a broader stretching routine that includes other techniques, such as static stretching or dynamic stretching.


 

ALTERNATIVES TO PNF STRETCHING


PASSIVE STRETCHING

  • Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds (however evidence shows there may not be much benefit >30 seconds), use gravity, props or other body parts to maintain the elongation of the muscle. Be mindful to not overstretch.


ACTIVE STRETCHING

  • Active stretching involves the muscle contraction is used to maintain the stretch and transmit force to the connective tissue.



Functional Stretching
Dynamic Stretching


DYNAMIC STRETCHING

  • Moving your body through the full range of motion. This is beneficial as a warmup prior to exercise as it simulates functional movements and helps prim the body for more intense training. Examples are arm circles, leg circles, squats, lunges, torso twist and leg swings.


FUNCTIONAL STRETCHING

  • Functional stretching is a type of stretching that is designed to improve the specific movements and muscle groups used in a particular activity or sport. It is based on the principle of specificity, which means that training should be tailored to the specific demands of the activity or sport. For example, if you are a runner, functional stretching might involve stretching your hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps to improve your running stride and reduce the risk of injury.

 

Flexibility is an important component of physical fitness that can help improve your overall health, well-being, and quality of life, while helping you move more freely and with greater ease.


PNF stretching is a highly effective technique that can help improve flexibility and range of motion, reduce the risk of injury, and enhance athletic performance. By combining passive stretching with isometric contractions and dynamic movements, PNF stretching can help achieve greater gains in flexibility than other stretching techniques.


I use it frequently and have noticed huge improvements in my own flexibility!! Let me know what you think? Do you use PNF in your own fitness routine?


It is important to note that PNF stretching should be performed carefully, or under the guidance of a qualified coach or trainer to ensure that it is performed correctly and safely.



If you enjoyed the post, spread the love and share. Thank you for your support!



 

REFERENCES

1. Miyahara, Yutetsu1,2; Naito, Hisashi2,3; Ogura, Yuji2,4; Katamoto, Shizuo2,3; Aoki, Junichiro2,3. Effects of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching and Static Stretching on Maximal Voluntary Contraction. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27(1):p 195-201, January 2013. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182510856


2. Sharman, Melanie & Cresswell, Andrew & Riek, Stephan. (2006). Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching. Sports Medicine. 36. 10.2165/00007256-200636110-00002.


3. PNF Stretching: Benefits, How It Works, and More - WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/what-is-pnf-stretching Neuromuscular Stretching NASM. https://www.nasm.org/docs/default-source/pdf/neuromuscular-stretching.pdf?sfvrsn=0



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