There are so many different stretching styles out there it is hard to know which one is best! While all styles of stretching are good, the best stretching method is the one that is suited to your goals. PNF stretching brings great benefits to those who are looking to increase their flexibility quickly.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation known as PNF stretching is a style of stretching that accelerates the neuromuscular mechanism by stimulating the proprioceptors. You may be wondering what the hell does that mean? In simple terms, it means that we trick the nervous system by resisting pressure to gain a deeper stretch when the muscles relax.
You may be wondering how does that work? When we contract the muscle and resist against a strap by applying pressure in the opposite direction the tissues increase in temperature which decreases the stiffness and increases plasticity.
The elevated temperature increases our ROM. That’s why we need to warm up to get an effective stretching session.
PNF stretching is highly recommended by a physical therapist yet it is underutilized because of the lengthier time they need to complete a PNF stretch.
Benefits Of PNF Stretching
#1 PNF technique produces the largest gains in flexibility!
Need I say more?!?
#2 Increases the strength and stability around the joints.
This is exactly what aerialists need to help prevent joint injuries.
#3 Improves performance
This is due to an improvement in the circulation of blood.
#4 Increases balance of strength
This is through the strengthening and lengthening of the muscle.
# 5 Enhances Coordination
Through practicing the movements.
#6 Superior relaxation of the muscles
This is due to the fatigue in the passive stretching phase.
Cons Of PNF Stretching
#1 It’s more painful than other forms of stretching
When contracting and applying pressure the stretch can be more painful than other forms of stretching. Although being aerialists we are used to no pain no gain.
#2 Increased motivation
PNF stretching is more work than passive stretching. Thus you need to be a little more motivated. But hey we are BEAST strong right?
#3 Can be more dangerous
As we are applying more force you don’t want to overdo it and create a soft tissue injury. The rule of thumb is on the lower body if 8 is pain you want to be on the scale of a 6 or 7. Seven would be if you are training with a professional. Six would be the max if you are trying this at home.
While we are used to the pain of aerial and stretching it is important to know that if you stretch to the point of pain your muscles seize and contract. Therefore you will not receive any benefit. So when it comes to stretching drop the no pain no gain attitude.
#4 Designed for partner stretching
While we can perform PNF stretching on our own with the use of stretching straps there will still be some areas you cannot simply get to yourself. This is because PNF is designed for partner stretching. With this in mind, I would not let this discourage you there are plenty of moves that you can perform on your own. As for the others. Find a buddy in your aerial class and team up for a quick duo stretch together after class.
#5 More likely to hold your breath
Ok, so this does not sound like too much of a downer right? The problem is when we hold our breath once we finally release it our blood pressure soars. This can be bad for people who have heart problems. If you are holding your breath you are going too hard. Back off a little and enjoy the stretch. This contraindication applies to aerial too! Don’t hold your breath, it makes you dizzy and nauseous due to the blood pressure reaction.
It seems that PNF stretching can help improve range of motion and at the same time have little negative consequences when practiced professionally or moderately at home.
PNF Stretching Examples
PNF stretching can be done 1:1 which is seen in the example below, you can also do partner PNF and assisted PNF using a strap. In this example below I push back into Karli’s shoulder as my contraction and when I relax she pushes me deeper into the stretch.
PNF is a contract and relax method. You want to contract and push into the strap or partner as hard as you can. Then allow the muscle to passively relax. You may find that you are able to draw the limb closer due to the increased pliability of the tissues.
Increase the tension on the strap until you meet your new level of range of movement (ROM). Be gentle with the muscle when performing this type of stretching you want your body to guide you. Forcing things will only lead you to injury.
With the example of a partnered hamstring stretch, the sequence you would use is:
- In the supine position (on your back) extend one leg toward the ceiling
- Have your partner move your leg into a static stretch by pressing it gently toward your face. Hold the static stretch for about 10 seconds.
- Contract the hamstring muscles and push your leg against your partner’s hand while your partner resists the movement. Hold the contraction for about 5-10 seconds.
- Relax the muscles and allow your partner to carefully move the leg past its normal range of movement. If of a scale to 1 -- 10 with 8 being pain you want to be on the level of a 6 or 7 for the lower body. Hold this passive, static stretch for about 10 seconds.
- Repeat the actions for three rounds. You are safe to do a fourth round if you are not pushing your flexibility too far.
PNF Stretches You Can Do At Home
Lunge into the lounge or chair
Pecs with arm against a wall
Forward fold contract and relax
PNF Stretching Video Guide
How Often Should You Practice PNF Stretching?
You can start your program by practicing PNF stretching 2-3 times per week. If there is not DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) then you can increase the frequency.
Listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs.
In happiness and health,
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