Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or PNF is a form of static stretching that involves both a static stretch followed by an isometric contraction of the muscle that is being stretched. The process is then repeated several times. Partner PNF has been shown to yield greater improvements in flexibility than static stretching (O’Hora, J., et al., 2011)1. However, partner PNF stretching has 2 major drawbacks – 1) it requires a partner and 2) has more risk in that your partner must communicate and respond appropriately to ensure that the stretch is performed safely. Self-PNF stretching could eliminate both of those drawbacks. However, until recently no studies had compared the effectiveness of self-PNF to static stretching.
A recent study compared static stretching to self-PNF stretching. Published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Wickie, J., et al., 2014)2, this study recruited 19 college-aged students to compare the two forms of stretching. After participating in a dynamic warm-up, subjects performed a sit-and-reach test to assess hip flexibility. Range of motion for both hips was also measured during the sit-and-reach test using a goniometer. Then the subjects were randomly assigned to either a static stretching group or a self-PNF group. After a 10-minute warm-up, subjects performed a hamstring stretch by placing their foot on a chair. Leaning forward from the hips, they held that position for 40 seconds. The self-PNF group also participated in a 10-minute warm-up before performing the same hamstring stretch using a 15-second static stretch, followed by a 10-second isometric hamstring contraction at 90% of maximal effort. This was followed by a 15-second static stretch. Both groups performed 2 sets of hamstring stretches on each leg, two days per week for six weeks. Trained instructors led all of the stretching sessions. After a one week break from the study, participants were tested again and then participated in six more weeks of stretching using the other method of stretching.
Flexibility measurements were compared before and after six weeks of participation in both stretching groups. Hip range of motion and sit-and-reach scores improved significantly more with self-PNF compared to static stretching. This study suggests that self-PNF is more effective than static stretching. Given that most static stretches can be performed using a self-PNF approach, the use of self-PNF can be a great alternative to static stretching. Stretch straps are great tools to facilitate self-PNF stretching at a number of joints. More research is needed to assess whether self-PNF yields greater improvements than static stretching at other joints, including the upper extremity. To learn self-PNF stretching techniques, register for the Balls, Bands, and More course. Share your favorite self-PNF stretch with us on Facebook or Twitter.
1O’Hora, J., Cartwright, A., Wade, C.D., et al. (2011). Efficacy of static stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretch on hamstrings length after a single session. J Strength Cond Res. 25: 1586-1591.
2Wickie, J., Gainey, K. and Figueroa, M. (2014). A comparison of self-administered proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation to static stretching on range of motion and flexibility. J Strength Cond Res. 28: 168-172.