Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation explained
PNF stretching is an advanced form of flexibility training. It involves the contraction and stretching of muscles. The technique was first used in clinical rehabilitation and has become popular with good reason among athletes, for its fantastic results in improving flexibility.
The technique was originally developed as part of a neuromuscular rehabilitation programme. It was designed to relax muscles and increase tone or activity.
PNF stretching techniques are usually performed with a partner (but can be done with the use of a chair or solid and stable surface to push against), and involve both passive movements and active (concentric and isometric) muscle actions.
PNF stretching techniques
There are three types of technique for PNF stretches:
Hold-relax with agonist contraction
PNF techniques are completed in three phases. With each of the three techniques, the first phase incorporates a passive pre-stretch of 10 seconds.
Here, I will discuss the Contract - relax technique. The muscle actions used in the second and third phases differ for the three techniques, and it is the second and third phases that give each technique its name. Stretches to improve hamstring flexibility have been included below.
This may be performed with a partner, or alone with the use of a yoga strap (as shown below) or chair, if nobody is available to help. The contract-relax technique begins, like all of the techniques with a passive pre-stretch of the hamstrings. This is held at the point of mild discomfort for 10 seconds.
The athlete then extends the hip against resistance from the partner, or in the case above, using a yoga strap to add resistance as the athlete attempts to lower the leg to the floor. This is to enable a concentric muscle action through the full ROM occurs.
The athlete then relaxes the hamstring. Following this, a passive hip flexion stretch is applied and held for 30 seconds. The increased ROM is facilitated due to autogenic inhibition (e.g. activation of the hamstrings).
This same technique can be applied to all muscles, and can be used as a very effective tool for improving flexibility (or more appropriately ROM (range of movement for an athlete specific to sport).
Optimal flexibility for performance varies from sport to sport. It’s closely related to the types of movements and actions an athlete is required to perform. The concept of mobility may be more appropriate than flexibility as it focuses on active movement through the required ROM. For athletes that need to increase flexibility static and PNF stretching techniques will allow for an effective increase in ROM.