When most people think of fitness they think of cardiovascular and strength exercise—but those in the know go for the full trifecta of strength, cardio, and stretching.
Of course, it’s not enough to simply stretch—it turns out, how you stretch matters. If you’re ready to step up your stretching routine, it might be time to try proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF stretching.
What Is PNF Stretching?
PNF stretching is an advanced form of flexibility training that involves contraction and stretching of muscles. The technique was originally born in the clinical rehabilitative environment, but has worked its way into mainstream gyms because it is so effective.
PNF stretching requires the help of a partner or an inanimate object. To perform a PNF stretch, you will alternate between a static stretch-and-hold and an isometric contraction of the muscle being stretched.
For example, to perform a PNF stretch of the hamstring with a partner:
- Lie on your back with one leg extended toward the ceiling.
- Stretch: Have your partner move your leg into a static stretch by pressing it gently toward your face. Hold the static stretch for about 10 seconds.
- Contract: Contract the hamstring muscles and push your leg against your partner’s hand while your partner resists the movement. Hold the contraction for about 5 to10 seconds.
- Stretch: Relax the muscles and allow your partner to carefully move the leg past its normal range of movement. Hold this passive, static stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds.
- Rest for 30 seconds and then repeat the procedure two to three more times.
Improving Range of Motion
PNF stretching has been proven to improve active and passive range of motion. It can be used to supplement daily, static stretching and has been shown to help athletes improve performance and make speedy gains in range of motion. Not only does it increase flexibility, but it can also improve muscular strength.
Multiple studies have shown that PNF stretching is superior to traditional static stretching in terms of improving range of motion. It is also excellent for targeting specific muscle groups. What’s more, PNF stretching is believed to prevent knots and realign muscle fibers and connective tissue after microscopic damage that typically follows a high-intensity workout.
Incorporating PNF Stretching into Your Routine
PNF stretching may sound inconvenient because it typically involves a partner—but there is a way to perform self-administered PNF stretches. For example, to perform a self-PNF hamstring stretch, place your foot on a chair or bench and perform a static stretch followed by an isometric contraction and another static stretch. Research has shown that this is an equally effective way to reap the benefits of PNF stretching.
One caveat: be sure to perform PNF stretching after a workout, as any type of stretching prior to a workout can reduce power output.
Wicke J, Gainey K, and Figueroa M. A comparison of self-administered proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation to static stretching on range of motion and flexibility. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2014; 28(1): 168–172.
Sharman MJ, Cresswell AG, Riek S. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching: Mechanisms and clinical implications. Sports Medicine. 2006; 36(11): 929-39.