What's PNF and why can it enable you get better sooner out of your exercise?

Flexibility is important for athletes (and non-athletes alike), which is why stretching is a key component in many active people's fitness routines. Greater flexibility can reduce the risk of injury, increase ROM (Range of Motion) and make everyday activities feel more comfortable. Also, tight muscles can dampen your workout, squats, posture, and mood.

t all stretching methods are the same. Sure you've heard of static stretching and possibly active stretching, but have you heard of PNF stretching? PNF stretching is a form of assisted stretching done by another person or a band. If not, you should stick with it as this form of assisted stretching is known to improve the physique. time to let go!

PNF Explained: An Athlete's Best Friend

"PNF, also known as Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, is a technique used in physical therapy to increase muscle flexibility and range of motion or decrease neuromuscular tone," explains Cord DeMoss, PT, DPT, CSCS and co-owner of Vitality Therapy and performance in Tulsa, OK.

How does PNF work? While there are a handful of PNF methods, they all require you to safely push your muscles to the limit during a stretching session. It allows both stretching and contracting of the targeted muscle groups.

For example: let's say a physical therapist helps you PNF stretch your hamstrings (these can also be done yourself through the use of a band). The PT would raise your leg until you hit a slightly uncomfortable stretch. A stretch where you feel like you can't extend that stretch anymore.

Once in the stretch position, perform an isometric contraction (slow pressure against the PT's hand) at a light to moderate level for 6-10 seconds, then allow the muscle to stretch some more.


The goal is to loosen up, so this process can be difficult

"Being tense" is almost always associated with the nervous system preventing us from going further. "Rather than stop the muscle from elongating itself, PNF has been shown to be effective in down-regulating (or calming) the nervous system," DeMoss explains.

A good example that DeMoss uses with his patients is this: Imagine a soldier trying to fully fold himself to stretch his hamstrings. Usually they can't. However, if they fell unconscious and had to be carried out of a battle on the shoulder of a comrade, now imagine the position they would be in. Almost entirely folded in half.

This is possible because the nervous system does not actively prevent the soldier from folding in half, and evidence of this is that the muscles themselves were able to lengthen sufficiently all the time to perform this action.

Benefits of PNF stretching

From increased athletic performance to faster post-workout recovery, the benefits of this assisted stretching method are outstanding. "The benefits of PNF stretching are the ability to rapidly improve ROM and decrease neural tone," says DeMoss, and in his personal anecdotal evidence as well as research-backed evidence, consistent practice of PNF stretching provides improved long-term outcomes in the flexibility .

And it doesn't stop there. “In a weight room environment, PNF can be used to not just improve the ROM that can run, as z says. All the reasons a gym lover should take PNF for themselves.

How to do PNF stretches

This stretching method can easily be done at home and follows a simple process:

  1. Warm up.
  2. Bring your muscle into a full stretch (as far as you feel it can be stretched at that moment), then perform an isometric contraction at a light to moderate level for 6-10 seconds, then release the muscle evenly stretch further.
  3. Repeat this process two to four times and then hold the final position for about 30 seconds.

Let's say one of your biceps is so tight that you can't fully straighten your elbows. With the other hand, straighten it as far as you can, then flex your biceps isometrically like you're trying to do a dumbbell curl.

Remember that the elbow doesn't actually bend as our opposite hand resists the movement so the contraction is isometric.

Hold this for 6-10 seconds and then release the contraction. At this point, you should be able to extend your elbow more than you did before you started.

"Another common example is a partner stretching a hamstring when an athlete is unable to lie on their back and extend their knee all the way to the ceiling," says Cord. "The athlete placed their heel on their partner's shoulder, the partner then extended the athlete's leg as far as possible (within tolerance) and then the athlete attempted to perform a hamstring curl into the partner's shoulder," he explains.

After the 6-10 second isometric contraction, the knee should straighten a little more than it did before.

You would then repeat the process 2-4 times and then hold for about 30 seconds after the last repetition.

Senior women exercising with dumbbells during menopauseProstock Studio

Who Should Avoid PNF Stretching?

As with any type of stretch, DeMoss encourages you to perform this method within the parameters that your body allows. "You also shouldn't do this if you have an active tear in a muscle that hasn't fully healed," he advises.

DeMoss says PNF can be a great tool when done by healthy individuals as an additional exercise to improve their overall athleticism and flexibility.

"If you're using this technique to heal an injury, guidance from a physical therapist is recommended," he says.

Finally, he says, "It's never a good idea to bring a muscle to full stretch if you haven't already warmed up, so make sure you warm up adequately before doing PNF stretches."

Final PNF Thoughts

  • PNF can be performed at home with a band or with the help of a qualified professional (registered physical therapist or certified personal trainer).
  • PNF increases flexibility, reduces the risk of injury, and increases athletic performance and ROM.
  • PNF should never be performed on cold muscles. Warm up first.
  • Consult a physical therapist who will examine your body, give you the all clear, and teach you how to properly use PNF.

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