PNF Stretching: A Better Way to Stretch
What is PNF? PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and it’s an advanced form of stretching that is very effective for increasing your range of motion.
How does it work? The stretching essentially involves 3 basic steps that can be applied to any muscle that needs stretching, especially before and after a physically demanding activity. The stretching utilizes reflexes in the muscles, as well as excitatory and inhibitory signals in the muscle being stretched, and the muscle opposing the stretch. You can think of it as stretching the involved muscle, then contracting the muscle without moving it, then stretching the target muscle again, increasing your range of motion. The technique has long been used by athletes across the world for improving flexibility quickly, safely, and very effectively.
How do I do it? It’s easy. This stretching technique can be applied to any muscle! Just apply these steps.
Step 1: Stretch the muscle as you normally would for about 6-10 seconds.
Step 2: Relax the stretch, but now concentrically contract the muscle for about 6 seconds (flex the muscle without bending the joint).
Step 3: Relax the contraction, but now re-stretch the muscle for another 6-10 seconds.
Step 4: Repeat this process for a set of 6 (or less if desired), each time stretching just a bit further and contracting just slightly below your limit.
Example: Let’s use a commonly tight muscle as an example – the hamstrings. For this stretch, you can use a resistance band, a stretching partner, or even utilize a door frame or wall corner. In this example we’ll use a stretching partner. Lie down on your back and have your partner raise your leg while keeping it straight, bending the leg at the hip. They should slowly apply the stretch of the hamstring by applying the force on the back side of the leg/ankle. Once the stretching limit has been reached, hold for 6-10 seconds. Next, relax the stretch by about 5 degrees and contract your hamstring muscle by pressing your heel/leg downward against your partner’s resistance. Do not bend your knee and do not let your partner lower your leg. Hold this contraction for about 6 seconds. Next, relax the contraction and re-stretch. You should notice that you can stretch a little further than before. Repeat for a set of 6, each time stretching just a bit further and contracting just slightly below your limit.
How is this going to help me? This type of advanced stretch is shown to improve and maintain range of motion, increase your muscle strength and power, and increase your athletic performance¹.
1.Hindle KB, Whitcomb TJ, Briggs WO, Hong J. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF): Its Mechanisms and Effects on Range of Motion and Muscular Function. J Hum Kinet. 2012 Mar;31:105-13. doi: 10.2478/v10078-012-0011-y. Epub 2012 Apr 3. PMID: 23487249; PMCID: PMC3588663.