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PNF stretching – what is it and when to employ it?

PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation and it is the most effective approach to stretching to improve flexibility.

Static stretching

A static stretch is held in position for a certain period. The person moves into the stretch slowly until tension is felt without pain. That position is held for a relatively long time – 30 seconds to 2 minutes. This approach tricks the body’s own defense mechanism because as you hold the position, the muscle dismisses the possibility of danger and the muscle relaxes allowing it to elongate.

PNF is a more advanced form of flexibility training, which involves both the stretching and contracting of the muscle group being targeted. PNF stretching is one of the most effective forms of stretching for improving flexibility and increasing range of motion. It is also known as the contract-release method.

  • First, move into a stretched position without pain and hold for 10 to 60 seconds.

  • Without moving, contract the muscle you are trying to stretch for 3 to 30 seconds.

  • Release the contraction and the muscle should relax to a new stretch point.

  • Repeat 2 to 3 more times then slowly release and return to the starting position.

Should you stretch warm or cold? Most people feel more comfortable and flexible when they are warm. However, you can stretch without warming up first. Just make sure you stretch slowly, avoid pain, and stretch the correct muscle.

Should you stretch before or after a workout? If you work out to feel good and stay fit, it is fine to stretch before, after, and even during a workout. If you lift weights, it may help to stretch both the muscle that you are working as well as its antagonist – the muscle on the other side of the joint. If the antagonist is flexible and pliable, the stretch will be easier and the risk for injury will decrease.

Here is an example of a PNF stretch for your neck.

Make it a part of your day. To maximize the effect of stretching it should be part of your daily habits, like brushing your teeth or showering. Your muscles need frequent maintenance as well.


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