What is Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)?

Flexibility is key for athletes and nonathletes alike. It allows you to move freely and comfortably in your daily life, and can also help prevent injury during exercise. One of the best ways to increase your flexibility is by stretching. However, research suggests that not all stretching techniques are created equal. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching relies on reflexes to produce deeper stretches that increase flexibility.

What is PNF stretching?

According to the International PNF Association, PNF stretching was developed by Dr. Herman Kabat in the 1940s as a means to treat neuromuscular conditions including polio and multiple sclerosis. PNF techniques have since gained popularity with physical therapists and other fitness professionals. It’s easy to understand why. According to research from the University of Queensland, PNF stretching may be the most effective stretching technique for increasing range of motion.

By working with your natural reflexes, PNF stretching is an easy and effective way to increase your overall flexibility and range of motion.

How does it work?

While there are multiple PNF stretching techniques, all of them rely on stretching a muscle to its limit. Doing this triggers the inverse myotatic reflex, a protective reflex that calms the muscle to prevent injury.

“PNF causes the brain to go ‘I don’t want that muscle to tear’ and sends a message to let the muscle relax a little more than it would normally,” says fasciologist Ashley Black. 

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If you are not familiar with this type of stretching, seek out a professional or trainer to make sure you are doing the move correctly. If you are under 18, PNF stretching is generally not recommended. Always seek the advice of a doctor or fitness professional before trying it.