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What is PNF Stretching? Basics and Benefits

PNF Stretching helps in increasing flexibility and ROM. (Image via Unsplash / Luemen Rutkowski)
PNF Stretching helps in increasing flexibility and ROM. (Image via Unsplash / Luemen Rutkowski)

You've probably heard of static stretching before but did you know about PNF stretching.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching is a technique where you use your muscle awareness and reflexes to achieve deep stretches. This type of stretching has been associated with greater flexibility, lower muscle soreness, improved joint stability and decreased risk of injury.


What Is Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching?

One of the best ways to increase your flexibility is by stretching, but different types of stretching techniques can provide different benefits. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching is a form of stretching that uses reflexes to produce deeper stretches, increasing flexibility.

PNF can increase your strength, ROM and flexibility. Your passive range of motion (PROM) and active range of motion, in particular, can be improved (AROM).

Both athletes and non-athletes can use the PNF stretching technique to enhance performance. According to studies, performing these stretches before exercising can improve performance in activities like jogging.

However, PNF, when performed before high-intensity exercises, like weightlifting and running, can reduce performance.


How Does PNF Stretching Work?

While there are numerous PNF stretching methods, they all involve pushing a muscle to its absolute limit. The inverse myotatic reflex, a defensive reflex that soothes the muscle against harm, is triggered by doing that.

PNF delivers a signal to the brain that says, "I don't want that muscle to rip," allowing the muscle to relax a little more than it would ordinarily.


Types of PNF Stretching

The various types of PNF Stretching are as follows:

1) Hold-Relax stretch

'Hold-relax' is a PNF technique that might cause the reflex.

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This exercise requires:

  • putting a muscle in a stretched position and holding it there for a short period of time (also known as a passive stretch).
  • Isometric contraction, or simply pressing softly against the stretch without moving, involves contracting the muscle without really moving.
  • There is a '6- to 10-second window of opportunity for a beyond "normal" stretch' at this point, according to Black, when the reflex is triggered.
  • Exhaling, relaxing the stretch, and repeating it. That should be deeper than the first stretch.

2) Contract - Relax

The contract-relax stretch PNF technique is another popular one. The only difference between it and the hold-relax is that the muscle is constricted while moving, as opposed to without moving. Stretching, which is isotonic. is another name for this exercise.

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This stretching could, for instance, entail a trainer providing resistance when a participant in a hamstring stretch contracts the muscle and lowers the leg to the floor.


3) Hold-Relax-Contract

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This technique is very similar to the hold-relax technique, with the exception that at the conclusion of the stretch, additional flexion is done to the targeted muscle group for a number of seconds.


4) Contract-relax-antagonist-contract

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Also referred to as the CRAC technique, this PNF stretching approach entails stretching the targeted muscle, holding for a short period of time and immediately contracting the antagonist muscle for a short period before relaxing. You may alternate between stretching your biceps and your triceps, for instance.


Benefits of PNF Stretching

Some benefits of PNF Stretching are as follows:

1) Increase ROM: You can extend your range of motion (ROM) by stretching or extending your muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs (GTO) with PNF. According to research, PNF stretching may be the most efficient way to stretch to expand your range of motion.

2) Increases muscular flexibility PNF has been found in studies to improve muscle flexibility. PNF can increase the flexibility of the hamstring and gluteus muscles, in particular.

3) Amplify muscle power: If done before less demanding activities, PNF can increase your muscle strength. According to a study, when athletes perform PNF stretching twice a week for eight weeks, their vertical leap and throwing distance can increase by more than twice.


How to Get Started with PNF Stretching?

Remember to do PNF stretching after your activity not before. That will allow the muscle to be better prepared for exercise and also reduce the risk of injury.

Consult a physical therapist who is skilled in PNF stretching if you wish to expand your range of motion in a particular location due to an injury. Targeting your body's 'long kinetic chains' is advised if you want to increase your flexibility, in general.

Remember that proper warm-up is crucial before exercise. When done before exercise, PNF stretching can decrease power in maximal effort exercises. Stretching before exercise can reduce the strength of muscular contractions, so if you're a strength or power athlete, it's even more important to stretch after your workouts. That doesn't mean you should skip your warm-up, though. You still need to do them.


Takeaway

PNF stretching is a great way to increase flexibility and range of motion while maintaining good form. It's easy to learn, even though the idea of it may seem a bit strange at first.

The first step is finding someone qualified to teach you the moves, but after that it's just a matter of practice. Just make sure you have a spotter around when you're working on improving your splits.

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Edited by Bhargav
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