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Science And Nature

What’s PNF stretching?

Man stretching arms with resistance band: What is PNF stretching?

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ever wondered what’s PNF stretching? This system is also referred to as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation and is often found in exercise and injury prevention. It’s likely that, whether youve heard about it or not, youve probably seen it before.

But first, what does stretching do to the body (opens in new tab)? In simplest terms, stretching relaxes, strengthens, and elongates muscles to boost flexibility and decrease the probability of injury. Dynamic (moving) stretches are traditionally used pre-workout to get ready muscles and joints for exercise, whereas static (non-moving) ones are advantageous post-workout to assist recovery though they may be incorporated into warm-ups, too.

There are many methods to stretch, but PNF stretching is reported to be a far more advanced method well-liked by athletes to accomplish a deeper stretch. Nevertheless, you opt to exercise, PNF stretching could enhance your performance and aid recovery.

We spoke to experts for more information. Uncover the many great things about stretching (opens in new tab) for the body and the best yoga mats (opens in new tab) to execute them on, or continue reading for more information about PNF stretching.

What exactly are PNF stretches?

Rami Hashish

Rami Hashish obtained his PhD in biomechanics from the university of Southern California in 2014. Then worked as a clinical instructor of physical therapy for quite some time before founding the national biomechanics institute.

In accordance with Rami Hashish (opens in new tab) (PhD, DPT) body performance and injury expert, the contract-relax method is arguably the most typical PNF stretching technique and facilitates a deeper stretch to boost flexibility.

With this particular approach to stretching, a passive stretch is put on a muscle or muscle group, then active contraction is conducted by the muscle being stretched, explains Hashish. This results in a little bit of short-term fatigue to the muscle. The muscle is then relaxed and assisted right into a deeper stretch.

Hashish explains that consistent PNF stretching can increase flexibility and freedom, resulting in improvement in muscle and sports performance. And the study, such as this study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics (opens in new tab), agrees.

Hope Choplin, certified clinical exercise physiologist and coach at Noom, adds that PNF was originally developed in the late 1940s for those who have neurological conditions before also being adopted for musculoskeletal conditions. Now its popular by therapists, athletes, and dancers, she says. Recently, additionally it is popular in gyms due to the association with quick results.

Image of Physio Hope choplin

Being an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist, “exercise is medicine” resonates with me, and I’ve spent time dealing with both sides of the wellness spectrum. I spent 10+ years creating and implementing clinical group exercise programming for those who have cardiac and peripheral artery disease, using cognitive behavior therapy and motivation interviewing to create meaningful health and fitness goals. Additionally, I’ve fitness expertise with post-stroke and TBI (traumatic brain injury) individuals. While I believe post-event therapy is essential, providing intervention before a significant medical event is really a shift in the wellness continuum that’s long overdue. As a health coach, I really like impacting this crucial juncture for most.

Woman stretching her hamstring

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you know the three forms of PNF stretches

Based on the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy (opens in new tab), PNF stretching falls into three categories. However before we explore them, lets quickly cover the most typical stretching methods:

  • Static stretching: Involves holding a muscle under tension without movement, with or without needing a prop or partner. Passive stretching takes a prop to include resistance, just like a wall or resistance band.
  • Dynamic stretching: This sport-specific warm-up stretch includes active and ballistic stretching. Active involves moving a limb through its full flexibility, like leg swings. Ballistic stretching involves an instant bouncing movement (just like a bouncing toe-touch) by the end flexibility, nonetheless it isnt recommended as a stretching technique anymore.

PNF sits under pre-contraction stretching and is really a passive type of stretch that will require contraction and relaxation of muscles with their limit against a prop or partner, performed repetitively.

PNF is considered to trigger an inverse myotatic reflex. Essentially, this tells muscle tissue to relax before they get injured. Think about it as a protective chat in the middle of your brain and muscles. Strangely though, research such as this study (opens in new tab) mentioned previously says its still an operating theory.

Regardless, PNF is split into three types: contract-relax, hold-relax, and contract-relax agonist contract (CRAC) which we breakdown below.

Other great things about PNF stretching

Weve already covered benefits as an increased flexibility and flexibility, but PNF may also help strengthen muscles and improve performance.

Increased strength isnt commonly considered with stretching, Choplin says. However, studies (opens in new tab) show that performing a PNF stretching routine before exercising for two months (2 times weekly for eight weeks) can double the effectiveness in joggers and movements like a vertical jump and throwing distance.

Chartered physiotherapist, Ben Lombard, focuses on treating sports injuries and agrees its a good technique.

It works on the principle of gently holding a sustained contraction of a muscle that’s being gently stretched, he explains. This step stimulates special receptors in your joints, called Golgi tendons, which helps the muscle to relax.

But Lombard advises deploying it within a cluster of treatments instead of standalone, and in addition together with dynamic stretching and strengthening of target muscles for best results; it is because the technique isnt very dynamic when performed alone.

Image of physio Ben Lombard

Ben Lombard is really a private Chartered Physiotherapist employed in London. He focuses on sports injuries but during the last couple of years has broadened his scope to become specialist consultant in postural rehabilitation and the treating scoliosis.

woman stretching hamstrings with resistance band

(Image credit: Getty)

How can you perform PNF?

Its worth reiterating that to totally reap the benefits of PNF stretching it requires to be performed carefully with an individual or prop, just like the best resistance bands or perhaps a friend. Hashish agrees that implementing it right into a regular stretching and workout routine could maximize your outcomes.


The hold-relax technique involves stretching the prospective muscle, then holding it for a couple seconds, explains Hashish. The muscle then performs an isometric contraction where in fact the muscle contracts without moving. After relaxing the contraction, the passive stretch could be repeated, deeper.

For instance, in case a trainer is assisting you stretch your hamstrings when you lie on your own back, they might passively stretch you right into a straight leg raise and soon you feel resistance. After holding the passive stretch, you’ll contract your hamstrings by pressing contrary to the trainers resistance; the trainer would apply sufficient resistance to avoid any active movement of one’s leg. Following this contraction, it is possible to relax, and the trainer deepens the passive hamstring stretch.


The contract-relax method ‘s almost identical to hold-relax, however the muscle contracts while moving, adds Hashish. For instance, as you contract your hamstrings, the trunk of one’s knee would move nearer to the bottom as you push contrary to the trainers resistance. Afterward you relax because the trainer stretches you right into a deepened position.

Female trainer helping man to stretch

(Image credit: Getty Images)


Contract-relax-contract is comparable to contract-relax, but after relaxing the contraction, the opposing muscle group contracts as the trainer assists in deepening the stretch.

Basically, after pushing contrary to the trainers resistance so the back of one’s knee gets nearer to the ground, at this point you reverse the action by bringing your still straightened knee nearer to your chest as the trainer assists in deepening the stretch.

Uncertain how exactly to stretch your hamstrings (opens in new tab)? Be sure you learn some basic stretching techniques first, including how exactly to stretch your spine (opens in new tab), too.

Do you know the drawbacks of PNF stretching?

Hashish warns that performing PNF stretching before exercise may bring about reduced performance. In accordance with a report in the Journal of Human Kinetics, this may decrease muscular performance in plyometrics, sprinting, weightlifting, and high-intensity training where maximal muscle effort is necessary, possibly because of an inhibiting effect after stretching.

However, performing it after (or without) exercise was proven to significantly increase performance when performed at the very least twice weekly, with effects lasting around 90 minutes post-stretch.

Utilize this method with caution, particularly if youre a beginner to exercising or PNF as a method. Choplin tells us that PNF stretching hasnt consistently been proven to be more advanced than regular stretching and takes a partner who knows how exactly to perform it a thing that can otherwise cause muscle tears and problems for novice stretchers.

She advises several simple methods to lessen your risks:

  • Dont commence a PNF stretching routine without having to be shown the correct procedure by way of a professional trainer
  • Children and teens shouldn’t attempt PNF stretching as their bones havent finished growing, and theyre often more flexible than adults, that could create a higher threat of connective tissue or tendon damage.
  • More complex PNF stretching methods should only be utilized by professional dancers or athletes.

While PNF stretching includes a place, specifically for advanced exercisers, athletes and dancers, or in the realm of therapy, it could not be considered a practical type of stretching for everybody, Choplin adds.

PNF stretching can be hugely difficult with out a skilled partner. Individuals can be confident that leaning into more traditional types of stretching active, passive, or dynamic will still reap the benefits of improved flexibility and flexibility.

Its also recommended in order to avoid unstable joints, like your shoulders, and utilize the stretch for the back and lower torso.

SamHopesis an even III physical fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and resident fitness writer at Future PLC. Having trained to utilize both the body and mind,Samis a large advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and aims to create mental wellbeing to the forefront of fitness. Shes also passionate concerning the fundamentals of training and how exactly we can build more sustainable training methods. Youll find her authoring the significance of habit-building, nutrition, sleep, recovery, and workouts.

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