By Erin Irish
PNF stretching refers to proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. Proprioceptive means relating to stimuli that are produced and perceived within you, especially those connected with the position and movement of the body. Neuromuscular means relating to nerves and muscles. Therefore, PNF is a fancy way of saying that when your body is pushed to different limits, the brain automatically triggers responses and reflexes to facilitate change and prevent injury within the body. It is an advanced form of flexibility training that involves both stretching and contracting the muscles. This form of stretching was originally created for rehabilitation, which makes it extremely effective. It was designed in the 1940s by Dr. Herman Kabat to treat neuromuscular conditions such as polio and multiple sclerosis. These techniques are used by physical therapists and fitness experts because the method may be the most effective form of stretching for increasing range of motion (ROM), and it relies on reflexes to produce deeper stretches, which increase flexibility. This method is commonly used by athletes and individuals whose flexibility and ROM are less than normal. It pushes practitioners to stretch muscles to their limit. When muscles are pushed to their limit, the brain prevents injury by triggering the message “Stop, before I tear my muscle,” which causes the muscle to relax more than it normally would.
There are several variations of PNF techniques commonly practiced. This form of stretching is often performed with a partner or trainer and involves a series of contractions and relaxations with enforced stretching during the relaxation phase. One type is called hold-relax. First, a muscle is stretched and held for five to ten seconds. The next step is to contract the muscle without moving. This provides the chance for the muscle to be stretched beyond its limit. The last step is to relax the muscle and then stretch again, pushing the muscle even farther than in the first round. Another PNF technique is called the contract-relax stretch. The same steps are performed during this stretch, but the difference is that when the muscle is contracted during the second step, the athlete would be moving instead of remaining still. A third technique is called hold-relax-contract. This is like hold-relax, but the difference is that after stretching, holding, and contracting, the athlete would push into the stretch as opposed to relaxing after contracting. The last step is to relax and repeat. PNF techniques can be both active or passive, static or dynamic. PNF stretching is used to increase muscle strength, flexibility, and range of motion, and it facilitates muscle inhibition.