You can’t spend too much time trolling fitness websites without coming across the word “mobility.” Want to squat better? Mobilize. Want to learn how to do cleans? Mobilize. Want to feel less sore after a workout? Foam roll and then mobilize.
We agree that mobility and your muscles’ range of motion are important factors in fitness. If you want to do an exercise correctly, chances are you’re going to want your muscles and joints to move through the motion as smoothly and easily as possible.
The trouble is that, for most of us, stretching is painful and boring. You know you’re supposed to stretch after you work out, so you sit on your butt, touch your toes a few times, and maybe do some arm circles. “Is this even doing anything?” you wonder. “Eh, that’s probably good. Time to eat.”
We’ve been there, too.
The answer to your problems may be proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching. PNF stretching, also called “active assisted stretching” has been found to better increase range of motion (ROM) than ballistic and static stretching.1-3Although utilizing PNF stretching can’t help you feel motivated to mobilize, it can help you make sure that what you’re doing is time efficient and actually working.
WTF IS PNF?
PNF stretching is always done in the same pattern: 10-second stretch, 6-second contraction, 30-second stretch. The first stretch should be just to the point of discomfort. The 6-second contraction is an active isometric contraction at submaximal effort (around 20-50 percent of your max effort) against a partner’s or other implement’s resistance. The final 30-second passive stretch should go beyond the range of your first stretch. This style of PNF is called “contract-relax.”
Still a little unclear? We’ll use a partner hamstring stretch as the real-world example:
- Lie on your back with your legs and arms on the floor. Lift one leg and allow your partner to push against it until you feel slight discomfort in your hamstring, and stay in this position for 10 seconds.
- Next, push with your hamstrings against your partner’s resistance for 6 seconds. Think about driving your heel towards the ground.
- Follow that contraction by relaxing into a passive stretch by your partner for 30 seconds. After the contraction, you should be able to move your muscle into a greater ROM during the passive stretch.