Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation

We continuously talked about the importance of stretching! We have discussed different types of stretching and their main differences. However, there is a unique type of stretching that requires its own post. The stretching style is proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.

PNF consists of 3 different categories:

  • Hold-relax
  • Contract relax
  • Hold relax with agonist contraction 

What is PNF?

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) was originally developed as part of a neuromuscular rehabilitation program. It was designed to relax muscles with increased tone or activity. For example, in patients who suffered a stroke. However, it has since been expanded to athletes as a method of increasing flexibility. PNF is usually performed with a partner and it involves both passive movement and active muscle actions. It may be superior to other stretching methods because it facilitates muscle relaxation. One flaw to PNF is the fact that it requires a partner and some expertise. Therefore, it is not as popular.

PNF techniques are completed in three phases. PNF incorporates both traditional active stretching and passive stretching. 

Let’s learn how to perform each. We will use the a hamstring stretch as an example.

Hold-Relax

The hold-relax technique begins with a passive pre-stretch. The pre-stretch is held at the point of mild discomfort for 10 seconds. Then, the partner applies a hip flexion force and instructs the athlete to hold. The athlete holds and resists the movement so that an isometric muscle action occurs. The isometric contract is held for six seconds. Next, athlete relaxes and passive stretch held for 30 seconds. The final stretch should be of greater magnitude due to activation of the hamstring.

Contract-Relax

The hold-relax technique begins with a passive pre-stretch. The pre-stretch is held at the point of mild discomfort for 10 seconds. Then, the athlete extends the hip against resistance from the partner so that a concentric muscle action through the full range of motion occurs. Next, athlete relaxes and a passive hip flexion stretch is applied and held for 30 seconds. The increased range of motion is facilitated due to autogenic inhibition aka activation of the hamstrings.

Hold- Relax with Agonist Contraction

The hold relax with agonist contraction technique is identical to hold relax in the first two phases. During the third phase, a concentric action of the agonist is used in addition to the passive stretch to add to the stretch force. That is, following the isometric hold, the athlete flexes the hip, thereby moving further into the new range of motion. With this technique the final stretch should be greater, primarily because of reciprocal inhibition AKA a activation of the hip flexors, and secondarily because of autogenic inhibition AKA activation of the hamstrings.