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PNF Stretching Explained

What's the Deal With: PNF Stretching

If you have personal trainer, a Pilates instructor, and yogini all in a room discussing how to stretch, the conversation could become a little heated. Stretching can be quite a controversial subject — for real. There are many different theories and techniques on how to best lengthen a muscle, and one of my favorite ways to stretch is Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. Since that is quite a mouthful, it is commonly know as PNF stretching.

In PNF stretching you actively contract then passively stretch the muscle you are trying to lengthen. The technique targets muscular nerve receptors to increase the muscle reach and muscle flexibility. You basically trick the muscle into thinking it is just going to relax after exerting effort, and then you lengthen the muscles while they are relaxed. It is best to do with a trained instructor, but you can stretch your hamstrings on your own.

To see how it works to stretch the hamstrings just


  • Contract the muscle you want to stretch. In the photo above the muscle group being targeted is the hamstrings — the back of the thigh. The leg is held up to the end range of flexibility (where you start to feel the stretch), then you try to press the leg down to the ground which engages the hamstrings. You can press the leg into your own hands with fingers laces holding the back of the leg between the booty and the knee (but not on the knee joint!) or press your heel into a wall. Hold the contraction for 7–10 seconds.
  • Release the contraction. Then stretch the hamstring by bringing the leg closer to the torso. Careful here – do not force the leg. Hold the stretch for 10–15 seconds.
  • Repeat the cycle three to five times, then switch legs.

If you want to lean more, check out the book Facilitated Stretching by Robert E. McAtee and Jeff Charland. It comes with a DVD so you can watch PNF stretches in action.


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