Many people would love to increase their range of motion and overall flexibility, but that isn’t always a simple task. You might think that doing some simple stretches on your own will be good enough, but it often isn’t. Stretching can be a lot more complex than you would think, which is why professional help is such an incredible tool to have! At Stretch Zone, we use PNF stretches to drastically improve your range of motion.
But aren’t most stretches the same? What is PNF stretching and why is it so drastically better than other types of stretches? This technique allows us to go much deeper to get the most out of your session, leading to an incredible increase in flexibility.
What is PNF Stretching?
Out of all other stretching techniques, the University of Queensland has found that proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF stretching, is the most effective for increasing your range of motion. Furthermore, there are a few different ways to complete a PNF stretch, and all of them involve stretching the targeted muscle as far as you possibly can.
The History of PNF Stretching
The first principles and philosophies of PNF stretching date all the way back in the 1940s. It was developed by Dr. Herman Kabat, a neurophysiologist and physician, and Maggie Knott, a physical therapist.
Their original goal was to create a treatment that could improve movement for people with neurological impairments. Initially, poliomyelitis and multiple sclerosis were the main focuses. However, this later transitioned into helping those with musculoskeletal impairments.
In 1952, they gained the help of another physical therapist, Dorothy Voss. With Voss’s help, the PNF method became the fully formed strategy it is today. Four years later, Voss and Knott worked together to publish the first-ever book on PNF.
Increasing Your Range of Motion with Assisted Stretching
PNF stretching strategies on their own are a very efficient way to improve your range of motion. However, when used with the helpful guide of assisted stretching, the results are amazing! Assisted stretching practitioners are specifically trained to help you get the most out of your body without causing injury.
At Stretch Zone, we begin by having you reclined on one of our patented tables, which you will also be comfortably strapped into. This allows us to move and stretch your body in ways that would be difficult and overly strenuous to do on your own.
Athletes, inactive individuals, and everyone in-between can gain a lot from assisted PNF stretching. From vigorous activity to normal movements through everyday life, you will follow your usual routine more comfortably and free. You will also be drastically lowering your chance of injury.
What Techniques are Utilized with PNF Stretches?
PNF stretching utilizes many techniques to achieve the complete experience. The goal is always to stretch your muscles in specific ways that will significantly improve your range of motion and flexibility. So, how do we accomplish this?
When your muscles are contracted during a stretch, applying resistance creates a smoother motor response through re-educating the muscle for optimal contraction. Furthermore, everyone is different, so some people will have a higher degree of resistance compared to others.
Traction is applied perpendicular to your muscle’s arc of motion. Just like with resistance, doing this will create a better motor response.
Muscle irridation is completed by taking advantage of the relationship between larger and smaller muscle groups. When we apply graded resistance to the larger groups, it enhances the muscle contraction in the weaker groups.
The stretch reflex, or myotatic reflex, is activated when you hold a stretch for too long. Additionally, this comes into play when you stretch too far and go beyond the limits of what your body can do without injury.
The Stretch Reflex in Detail
So, what would happen if your stretch reflex never activated? You would likely tear your muscle, resulting in an extremely uncomfortable situation. When it does activate, your muscles will start to automatically recoil. It’s a completely involuntary movement that comes into effect after about three seconds of constant stretching.
If you take a short break and come back to a resting position before the three second window is up, you will prevent the reflex from activating. A technique called active isolated stretching takes advantage of this loophole, holding each stretch for only two seconds at a time.
We use this automatic recoil to our advantage when completing PNF stretches. Both Golgi tendon organs and muscle spindles are proprioceptors that lend a hand in increasing your flexibility and range of motion through PNF stretching.
When we increase tension applied to your Golgi tendon organs by having you isometrically contract, your body responds by activating an inverse stretch reflex, preventing the targeted muscle from contracting any further.
PNF Stretching Methods
There are three main methods for PNF stretching, all which will often utilize either isometric agonist contraction or isometric antagonist contraction. These methods can be used together during the same stretching session. However, it is always recommended to relax the body for at least 20 seconds before moving onto the next.
For the best and safest results, we recommend coming in to see one of our stretch practitioners.
One of the most common PNF stretches is the hold-relax technique. For this method, we’ll begin with a passive stretch. This involves assuming the stretched position and holding it there for just a few seconds. Next is isometric stretching. Here, the muscle is contracted without actually moving your body.
When your reflex is activated, you will have a short amount of time to stretch beyond what you would normally be capable of. This can last for upwards of 10 seconds.
Once the window has closed, we will bring you back to a relaxed position. Every time this process is completed, your stretches should get deeper, resulting in an increased range of motion.
The contract-relax technique is another useful PNF method. It starts off very similar to the hold-relax technique. We hold the muscle in the stretched position before contracting. However, when you contract, we’ll move your body simultaneously. Another term for this is “isotonic stretching.”
For the hold-relax-contract method, we first follow the initial steps of the hold-relax technique. Yet, rather than completing a passive stretch or pushing against it, you’ll be pushing into it.
When you come to Stretch Zone, you won’t have to worry about which method is best for you—that’s our job. All you have to do is show up ready to stretch. Our expert stretch practitioners know how to mix and match certain stretches so you’ll see noticeable results where you need them most.
Best Muscles to Target for Increased Flexibility
Our trained stretch practitioners know everything there is to know about increasing your range of motion in the most efficient way possible. When we use PNF stretches to maximize your body’s potential, the areas likely being targeted will include:
- Back muscles
- Side fascia
- Hip flexors
Opening the potential for these muscles will allow the body to have a freer passive motion. Simply put, you should feel a noticeable difference when completing daily activities.
Why Assisted Stretching is the Safer Option
A lot of people believe that stretching is a very easy task. Even if you haven’t been consistent with your stretching, it seems simple enough. The problem comes when you blur the difference between correct and incorrect stretching methods. You could either be wasting your time because what you are doing isn’t really helping your body, or you could end up hurting yourself.
It’s very possible to stretch too much or stretch in a way that could pull or tear a muscle, so it’s important to fully understand what you are doing before you try it on your own. Even if you look up guides on the internet, trying to decipher a description or mirror what you see in a video can still be a difficult task.
With PNF stretching specifically, it’s even more important to get professional help through an assisted stretch practitioner. You will be stretching your muscles in a way that pushes them a lot further than usual, so experience is the key to accomplishing the goal without injury. At Stretch Zone, our practitioners undergo extensive training, allowing you to always leave with the best results possible.
The Importance of Breathing
As with most forms of stretching, breathing is especially important with the PNF method. A lack of breathing leads to a buildup of lactic acid. While lactic acid typically, won’t lead to any extreme consequences, you may feel more discomfort than usual, hindering your desire to stretch.
Breathing also allows you to calm down and relax. Without properly inhaling and exhaling regularly, your muscles will begin to tighten up. This is the exact opposite of what we want to do. Therefore, make sure you are always breathing. When you come to see us at Stretch Zone, we’ll be your constant reminder so you can get the most out of your visit!
It’s always best to follow a simple pattern when stretching:
Breathing will also provide a good gauge of how much improvement your muscles are seeing from PNF stretching. After each exhale, you should be noticing your range of motion deepen even further. You won’t believe what your muscles are truly capable of until you try out an assisted stretching session with professional guidance!
Extra PNF Stretching Tips
Wait 48 Hours Between Routines
PNF stretching pushes your muscles to their limit. Since we don’t want to overdo it and risk injury, you should always wait roughly 48 hours (about 2 days) before coming back for another session. This will give your muscles enough time to properly relax and heal before returning to deep stretching.
Complete 2 to 5 Sets
On average, we’ll typically complete around two to five sets of stretches when you come in for PNF stretching. However, this will depend on how accustomed your body is to completing these deep stretches. We will usually take it a little easier at first and work your way up.
Not Recommended for Kids
While some assisted stretching is perfectly fine for children under 18, PNF stretching could, unfortunately, be more harmful than helpful. Furthermore, because they are still growing, it’s not recommended to push their muscles to their limit. We don’t want them to sustain any injuries due to stretching that is not necessary for their bodies.
You Should Warm Up First
Many people assume that extensive stretching is fine when your muscles are cold. That’s what stretching is for, right? However, since we’re pushing the muscles to their limit, doing so while the muscle is cold and tight can cause injuries. Even if you don’t necessarily injure yourself, stretching cold muscles causes them to tighten and further prevent you from getting the most out of your stretch session.
Are You Interested in Experiencing Assisted PNF Stretches?
At Stretch Zone, we want you to get the most out of your stretching routine without the risk of injuring yourself. That’s why we offer assisted stretching with one of our highly skilled and trained practitioners. All you have to do is come to one of our numerous locations and we’ll take care of everything.
Lie back on one of our incredibly comfortable patented tables, we’ll strap you in, and you can simply relax and enjoy the benefits. If you are looking to drastically increase your range of motion and flexibility, Stretch Zone is the place to be. We are excited to meet you and assist you in reaching your goals! Contact us today to schedule a free 30-minute stretch so you can see for yourself what PNF can do for you!