This Style of Stretch Can Help You Recover From Your Workouts
This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.
COOLING DOWN AFTER working out is like eating more veggies: you know you should do it, but you don’t.
Most guys go straight from the weight rack to the shower, and in so doing, deny themselves the many benefits of a post-workout stretch. There are more than a few, including greater mobility and flexibility, a reduced risk of injury, and a faster recovery—all of which can ultimately lead to greater leaps in performance and more rapid goal achievement.
Fortunately, five to 10 minutes is all it takes to turn the situation around and capitalize on those benefits. Just about any form of stretching will do, but if you regularly work out with a partner, consider trying one of the techniques that trainers love most: PNF stretching.
What Is PNF Stretching?
Short for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, PNF is a form of assisted stretching in which a partner helps you achieve a deeper stretch of the targeted muscle. The image that springs to most people’s minds is that of a football coach or trainer kneeling over a player on the sideline while gently raising one of the player’s legs toward the player’s torso to stretch his hamstring.
There are a few different ways to perform PNF, but the one that’s generally considered to be the most effective is called “hold-relax with agonist contraction.” That sounds complicated, but it’s not.
How PNF Stretching Works
In the example above, the trainer would raise the athlete’s leg until the athlete felt a stretch (to the point of mild discomfort) in his hamstring. That position is held for 10 seconds, and then the athlete presses back against the trainer for 6 seconds as the trainer resists, keeping the leg in the same position. Finally, the athlete flexes his hip muscles as the trainer gently presses the leg as far as possible into the stretch.
When performed correctly, PNF allows you to accomplish a much deeper stretch thanks to a combination of autogenic and reciprocal inhibition. The former is the inhibition of the target muscle (the hamstrings in the above example) while the latter is the inhibition of the antagonist muscle (e.g., hip flexors, keeping with that example). Together, they allow the target muscle to be lengthened maximally, and greater improvements in flexibility to be achieved.
How to Use PNF Stretching in Your Routine
Because you’re triggering an inhibitory response as opposed to an excitatory one, PNF is best performed post-workout.
In fact, research shows that it can actually decrease weightlifting performance when performed as part of a warmup. But when performed during a cool down, the same research shows that it can help boost both range of motion and athletic performance. Before you add the protocol to your routine, check in with a PT if possible for some best practices to make sure you and your partner don’t push too far—then get ready to get loose.
Trevor Thieme is a Los Angeles-based writer and strength coach, and a former fitness editor at Men’s Health. When not helping others get in shape, he splits his time between surfing, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and trying to keep up with his seven year-old daughter.
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