PNF Stretching

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What is Isometric PNF?

PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. That did not make sense to you? Isometric PNF stretching is one of the best and most advanced stretching techniques. Note that this is not a complete guide to this technique. If you are a beginner in flexibility, read no further!

PNF broken down:

  • Proprioception: means that you (your brain) know how your limbs are placed in its surrounding.
  • Neuromuscular: has to do with the connection that consists between your muscles and neurons.
  • Facilitation: is simply said an activity that will make a task easier to do. ‘Facile’ is French for ‘easy’ (just a fun trivia).

Isometric PNF stretching starts with performing a certain stretch. After you have found a position close to your maximum level of flexibility, you will flex or contract the muscles involved in that position. You hold the contraction for 10-20 seconds and then release. Now the actual PNF part kicks in. You will finish the stretch by stretching further than you did before the contraction.

In other words, you start with going to your maximum level of flexibility (relaxed stretching part). Then you contract the muscles that are involved in the stretch (isometric part) and finally you stretch to a new maximum. So that is Isometric PNF stretching.

How does it work?

When we want to learn a split, one of the first reactions of our body is to not do that. The human body is not born with flexibility, so it is not a natural position to be in. The muscles are weaker in the position of a split. This basically means that you cannot become very flexible if your muscles are not strong enough to be comfortable in that position.

What PNF does is making your muscles stronger in a stretching position. You do this by contracting the muscles when you are in that particular position you want to get used to. The body becomes aware of the fact that it can actually sustain itself in this position, even if put under tension. After holding the contraction for about 10 – 20 seconds you will relax again. This time you will be able to stretch a bit further than you could before the contraction.

Isometric PNF Guidelines

  1. Isometric PNF stretching should not be done before another workout. It is a workout on its own.
  2. Do not perform this technique 2 days in a row. Always take at least one day of rest in between two workouts. Meanwhile you can do some light, relaxed stretching routines.
  3. ALWAYS warm up before doing PNF stretching. Start with a short cardio activity, followed by some deep squats or air squats and then do some light stretches.
  4. Use only one PNF stretch per muscle or area.
  5. Only stretch the big muscles like the quadriceps and hips with this technique. This means you should not use it for your arms, shoulders, shins, forearms or calves.
  6. When you feel pain or soreness during or after the training, immediately stop the training. Do not use the Isometric PNF technique until your muscles are recovered.
  7. The isometric contraction should take you at least 20 seconds and the relaxed stretch can take at least 20 seconds as well. Perform 2-4 sets per exercise.

If the pain or discomfort remains for more than one week, you have to consult a physician. If pain or soreness occurs more often, you should stop using this technique and / or consult a physician or physical therapist!