PNF Stretching: Why It Works and a Habit to Try

IIf you’re looking to increase flexibility or reduce muscle tension, a popular strategy is to add some stretching to your weekly routine. But your typical static or dynamic stretching might not be the most efficient way to do it.

Instead, physical therapists and stretching specialists may suggest stretching PNF, which stands for neuromuscular facilitation. This stretching technique involves actively contracting your muscles against resistance to help trigger muscle relaxation. Dave Candy, DPT, an orthopedic physical therapist and owner of More 4 Life PT, explains that deliberate muscle contraction makes this strategy more effective.

“When you contract a muscle, the tension in the muscle increases, which activates a tension-receiving organ called the Golgi tendon organ. This causes the muscle to relax to avoid injury, Dr. Candy explains. “This is a principle known as ‘autogenic inhibition’ because muscles are self-inhibiting.”

There is another principle of PNF, he adds, called “reciprocal inhibition,” where you contract the opposing muscle group. For example, when you’re stretching your hamstrings, contracting the quads will “off” the hamstrings so you can release them even further.

Research has shown that this method can be more effective at increasing muscle flexibility than static stretching. It could be because a sensory receptor called the muscle spindle senses an increase in tension during static stretching and limits how much stretch you can achieve, Dr. Candy explains. “PNF corrects this muscle tension reflex,” he says.

What does PNF stretch feel like?

If you want to try this technique out for yourself, you’re in luck. On Well+Good’s latest Good Stretch, trainer Nicole Uribarri shares a series of 13-minute leg stretches. It’s designed to “help you improve your performance of everyday activities by helping you stretch your lower back, lengthening your hips, thighs, and hamstrings,” says Uribarri. One of the first stretches she started was using a PNF stretch to open up her hamstrings.

Uribarri asks you to wrap a towel around the ball of one foot, then stretch that leg straight up to the sky. “We are working with a series of contractions and releases,” she says. “Push your leg out far forward, then use the force of the hand in the towel to pull the leg towards you, so you should feel some activation in the back of your leg. You are pushing with your feet when you are pulling with your hands.” After holding for a few seconds, you release the contraction and bring your leg closer to you.

“Note that as you release your muscles, you can open up your hamstrings a bit more,” says Uribarri, before instructing you to do those two more rounds of contraction and release.

To make sure I was doing it right, I asked Dr. Candy what it would be like to prolong the PNF. He describes what I should expect as feeling like a gentle stretch to the point of being slightly uncomfortable.

He advises that once you experience that first bit of discomfort, you contract the muscle (in this case, the hamstring), which temporarily increases the tension in the muscle. Then relax, and you should be able to stretch a little longer.

How to do PNF stretching safely

While PNF stretching can be effective, there are also some risks that you need to be aware of. Dr. Candy says the most important safety consideration is that you should Are not stretched to the point of pain. This not only increases the risk of injury, but is also counterproductive.

“PNF stretching is a Finesse stretching type, not painless stretching type without increasing. If there’s pain, that increases muscle tension, reduces your flexibility,” he warns.

Dr. Candy says you can prolong the PNF on your own. Here is an example:

  • Stand with one heel on the chair and the other foot on the ground.
  • Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
  • Gently press your heels into the chair for 10 seconds to contract your hamstring muscles.
  • Then, relax and lean your trunk a little further forward. Again, just stretch to the point of tension, not pain.

Do Good+Good’s Good Leg Stretching

With chronic muscle tension, I make no secret of my dislike of stretching, but I have found that when I try to maintain a simple exercise routine or use a massage gun consistently, I DO experienced noticeable improvements not only in flexibility but also in the way my body feels and moves during workouts and activities in daily life. The name of the game for me is finding a stretch routine that’s short and easy to follow. That’s exactly what I found with the new series of Uribarri.

The routine is also simple, I just need a few yoga blocks and a towel. Even if you don’t have blocks, you can use books or some other small support you have around the house.

The sequence opens with a basic knee-to-chest stretch on one leg with some small circles at the hips. This feels really good because my hips, butt and hamstrings are known to be toned.

Then I had to experiment with the PNF stretching technique. Using a towel, Uribarri instructs us to do a one-leg PNF hamstring stretch. I imagine myself pressing my heels forward and upward while simultaneously pulling the towel back with my arms. I found that with each subsequent attempt at this interval (in the three rounds Uribarri led us through) I was able to go deeper and find more flexibility in my hamstrings.

This is followed by a series of other traditional static stretches that stretch the hamstrings and open the hips. The first is a low lunge using yoga blocks to support your upper body. Then, without moving your feet from their place on the ground, you push your hips up into the air and lean toward your previous foot — I feel a great stretch in my hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and shoulders. good with this move.

Then you drop your hips back into a low lunge and twist to the side, reaching one arm in the air in the world’s largest stretch. This is a great stretch not only for my hamstrings but also for my hip and groin flexors. While I have to admit that even though I did have yoga blocks for balance, I still found it a bit difficult to balance — which could prove to be some weakness in my core and glutes.

Then Uribarri asked us to lean our hips back to split in half, then sit down to twist, followed by firewood pose to open our hips before doing it all on the other side.

To be honest, even though the routine only lasted 13 minutes, the first time I tried it, I had to stop with about 5 minutes left because I felt like my legs and hips were stretched more than they were. with before. . However, I tried again the next day and completed the whole process.

If you are in a similar situation and suffer from chronic hamstring strain, I recommend the same approach; Don’t feel bad if you need to move on gradually. While this stretching series is perfectly suited for beginners, with any aspect of fitness, flexibility exercises can take a while to get used to and are absolutely nothing to be bad about. tiger when honoring your body’s endurance.

I highly recommend going through at least the first half as you’ll be trying out PNF stretching and it’s interesting to see an immediate difference using this technique. As you feel more comfortable, work your way through the entire video. If your experience is like mine, I think you’ll find that your hamstrings are finally stretched and released.


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