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The Basics of PNF Stretching

By Brad Walker
Flexibility Expert
Updated: December 10, 2008
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or PNF, is an advanced exercise for stretching the muscles and creating more flexibility. With the PNF exercises, the muscle groups are put through a routine of stretching and contracting. This type of exercise is typically used in the rehabilitation process because of its proven effectiveness, but it also helps target specific muscle groups for improving strength and flexibility.

Precautions of PNF

PNF stretches can put extra stress on specific muscle groups. As a result, you can increase the risk of injury to the body's soft tissue areas. Before participating in any PNF stretches, be sure to include a conditioning phase in your routine. Also, don't neglect a warm up period prior to the stretches.

Advantages of Warming Up before PNF Stretching

- It gets your mind ready for exercise. Most sports require a great deal of mental focus. Stretching helps your mind shift from daily work mode into training mode.

- It gets your body ready for exercise. Warming up means exactly what it says; you're warming the muscles gradually rather than plunging them into the shock of a workout.

- Warming up increases your body's core temperature and in a way giving you a head start on your routine.

- Warming up increases your body's muscle temperature. Warm muscles are limber, flexible muscles, less prone to ripping and tearing as they are when starting any physical activity cold.
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How to do a PNF Stretch

- The target muscle group must be stretched and under tension

- Contract the targeted muscle group for a few seconds by applying resistance to restrict the movement. You can use either a partner or another object to do this. Apply a relative amount of pressure that matches your level of training and conditioning. Do not apply maximum resistance if the muscle is injured.

- Relax the contracted muscle group
- Push the muscle slowly past its normal range of movement and hold it there for about 30 seconds
- Allow the muscle group to recover
- Repeat the process between two and four times

The timing recommendations for the stretches tend to differ depending on who you ask. Some say you should contract the muscle groups longer, some disagree about how long to rest between stretches and others disagree about how long to hold each stretch. These timing recommendations, however, are based on a thorough study and research of PNF stretching.

If you're trying to improve your flexibility or athletic performance, stretching is one of the most important things you can do. It not only strengthens your muscles and joints before exercising, but it also helps to prevent sports-related injuries and helps in the rehabilitation process following an injury. A few minutes engaged in a simple warm up routine of several different stretches is well worth the effort. I can't stress strongly enough not to neglect this vital part of every daily exercise routine. You could very well be doing more damage than good to your body.
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