Is Self Administered Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching superior to Static Stretching at increasing Range of Motion and Flexibility?

An important component to overall fitness is good flexibility, which is the ability to move and bend joints through a full range of motion (ROM). Adequate flexibility allows minimal stress to be applied to joints, allowing them to function more efficiently. Research has documented many benefits to improved flexibility including a reduced risk of injury, performance improvements and improved coordination and stability. Many methods of stretching exist, however choosing the most appropriate is often challenging. Two common methods of improving ROM is by static stretching (taking the body into a position and holding for a prescribed timeframe) and PNF (Where a muscle is taken to end range and held, with intermittent isometric contractions, also known as hold-relax). PNF has always been thought of as time consuming due to the need of a partner to perform the exercises, however recently it has been suggested that self administered PNF may yield the same improvements as partner assisted PNF. A recent study by Wicke et al (2014) compared self administered PNF to static stretching to evaluate the effects on ROM and flexibility. The study included 19 healthy college aged individuals. Pre measurements of hip ROM (Gonniometer) and hip, back and shoulder flexibility (sit and reach test) were taken and retested post intervention. The participants were split into 2 groups (group 1: static stretching – 2x40sec holds and Group 2: PNF – 2x40sec holds with intermittent contractions) both groups stretched the hamstring muscle and completed 2xweekly for a period of 6 weeks. following the 6 weeks individuals had a 1 week break before switching protocols for another 6 weeks. The study found improvements in overall flexibility in both groups, however only the PNF group had significant improvements in hip ROM. the results of this study suggest that self PNF may be used in place of static stretching due to not requiring a partner. The study results, while interesting the individuals were under direct instruction with regard to protocol, therefore it may be difficult for an inexperienced individual to develop this technique, and as static stretching did improve overall flexibility levels, this method should not be overlooked. The study also utilised hamstring in the PNF group, inclusion of other muscles need to be examined before further conclusions can be made.

Wicke, J., Gainey, K. and Figueroa, M. (2014). A comparison of self administered proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation to static stretching on range of motion and flexibility. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(1), 168-172.