Flexibility allows you to move your muscles easily and comfortably, whether you are a professional athlete or a non-athlete. Flexibility helps you move your body in any direction you want, and with higher flexibility, your range of motion and mobility will also be higher. Flexibility significantly becomes more important if you are a professional athlete who needs to promote his/her physical capability. Among the best ways to promote your flexibility is deep stretching; this is why stretching is an essential part of training in each sport or physical activity. One of the most effective types of stretching is PNF stretching.
What is PNF Stretching
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching is an advanced form of muscle flexibility training, which involves deep stretching and contracting of the muscles. PNF stretching is one of the most effective forms of stretching for improving flexibility, increasing range of active and passive motion, as well as helping muscular strengthening, stability, and elasticity in a short time.
It was first created by Margaret Knott PT and Herman Kabat MD in the 1940s for the treatment and rehabilitation of patients who had suffered from a stroke or neuromuscular dysfunctions such as polio and multiple sclerosis. However, later on, this technique attracted the attention of physical therapists and health professionals. Nowadays, it has become an after-workout routine for professional athletes.
What Are the Benefits of PNF Stretching
First and foremost, PNF stretching is an amazing way to relax your muscles and therefore all your body, after heavy sports training. Moreover, with PNF stretching you can:
- Enhance your movement, physical abilities, and mobility
- Prevent injuries and pain
- Reduce muscle tension, stress, pain, tightness, and stiffness
- Promote your physical performance
- Enjoy the benefits of a much better body flexibility
How is PNF Stretching Performed
PNF is basically stretching a muscle group to its limit in order to stimulate a protective reflex, known as the inverse myotatic reflex, which helps the muscles to relax. The mechanism of PNF stretching works based on the simple idea of putting a little more pressure on the muscle so that the brain itself decides to help the targeted muscle group to rest more in order to save the involved muscles.
Before starting the PNF stretching, the muscle should have a few minutes of warm-up so that the blood circulation around the area is enhanced and the muscle temperature is raised. Muscle warm-up prevents injuries and exhaustion that may take place due to overstretching of cold muscles and also helps the muscles get ready for the main process.
PNF stretching is better to be carried out with the help of someone else, such as a coach, trainer, partner or a professional therapist. PNF stretching is performed in a number of repetitive sets while each set is divided into five main parts: stretching – contraction – relaxation – re-stretching – final relaxation. The whole process can be repeated three times on the same muscle group.
For each set, firstly, your partner should help you with a static and passive stretch by gently stretching the muscle to the full and holding it for a few seconds. Then, the muscle should undergo an isometric contraction for about 10 to 15 seconds. In order to do so, you should contract your muscle against the slight pressure caused by your partner’s hand. After a brief muscle relaxation, then, your partner should stretch the muscle a little deeper for a few seconds into another full and passive stretch. Your muscles should be held again for a few seconds in a slightly more tensed position. Finally, the entire muscle group should be left at a rest position in the most relaxed way for at least half a minute, and then again repeat the process if desired.
What Should You Consider about PNF Stretching
If you want to benefit from PNF stretching, remember to:
- Do it after your exercise: In order to gain the most effectual results, PNF stretching should always be carried out after the activity and not before it. PNF stretching before a workout can actually reduce your muscles’ power – it is different from muscle warm-up before the exercise which is absolutely necessary.
- Warm-up before PNF: Warming up improves your blood flow and increases the temperature of the targeted muscles and the surrounding areas. It can make your muscles readier to receive gentle PNF stretching tension and achieve better results. It can also prevent from inducing any unwanted fatigue.
- Take deep breaths and think of something good: No matter how much your body and mind were tense during a serious sports competition, it is now your time to relax! If you are doing PNF stretching, then avoid thinking about disturbing thoughts so that your muscles can become perfectly stress-free and calm.
- Avoid applying extra pressure: You and your partner or therapist should know that no extra force or intensity should be put on the muscles. The slight muscle tension is intended to activate your natural muscle-soothing mechanism and not impose undue strain and stress on the muscles.
- Be gentle with small muscle groups: The required stretch and pressure decrease with the size of the muscle group. This is why you should be extremely careful around small muscles such as those of your neck and shoulders.
- Consult with a physician in advance: There may be conditions that prevent you from putting any extra tension on your muscles, even in the form of PNF stretching. Make sure to talk with your doctor about your physical condition before including PNF stretching in your workout routine.
- Also, consult with a physical therapist in advance: You can also talk to a physical trainer or expert about your physical condition and ask for their advice, especially if you intend to do it for the first time. Make sure to do PNF stretching with a professional companion, at least for the first few sessions.
Be careful with sensitive areas: Avoid applying PNF stretching on sensitive parts such as your neck and shoulders. Making the muscles in these areas too loose or too tense can irreparably harm the muscles and joints.