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Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretches, like other types of stretches, aim to increase the range of motion of a particular joint. With an increased range of motion, your movements become more efficient, and your performance in sports or other physical activities can improve. The basic principle behind PNF stretches is an alternation between relaxing and contracting a specific muscle or muscle group. The muscular contractions during PNF stretches are isometric, meaning that you push against an object without allowing the joint to move. Most of these stretches require a partner.
The quadriceps and hip flexors are groups of muscles located in front of the hip and thigh. The four quadriceps muscles -- the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and the rectus femoris -- extend, or straighten, the knee. The rectus femoris, along with the psoas major and iliacus, also flexes the hip to bring your thigh and stomach closer together. Knowing the action of these muscles is essential in PNF stretching, because you will have to actively contract them during the stretching process.
You can do PNF stretches for the quads and hip flexors while lying down. Lie on your stomach and have your partner position himself on the floor by your right hip. As you bend your right knee, have your partner place one hand on the underside of your right thigh and his other hand on the front of your right ankle. Move into the stretch by having your partner lift your right knee slightly off the floor while simultaneously bringing your foot toward your buttock. Let your partner know when you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip and thigh. To contract your muscles, push against both of your partner's hands by trying to bring your thigh down to the floor and your foot away from your buttocks. Repeat the stretch with your other leg.
For a standing PNF stretch, stand near a wall or stationary object for support. Bend your right knee and grab your ankle with your right hand. Keeping your torso erect, bring your foot toward your buttocks. Your right knee should move behind your left knee; otherwise, you won't stretch your hip flexors. Move as far as you can until you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip and thigh. For the contraction, push against your hand and try to bring your knees in line with each other. After completing the stretch with your right leg, do the stretch with your left leg.
For a final option for a PNF stretch, kneel on the floor and step forward with your right foot. Keeping your right knee over your foot and your torso erect, stretch your left leg out behind you as far as you can. Place your hands on your right thigh to help with balance. Bend your left knee and have your partner place one hand just above your knee and his other hand on your ankle. Have your partner gently push your ankle toward your buttocks until you feel a stretch in the front of your left hip and thigh. For the contraction, push against your partner's hand that is on your ankle. Repeat the stretch with your other leg.
You only need to do one of these stretches per stretching session, ideally at the end of your workout. For all of the PNF stretches, hold the initial stretch for about 10 seconds. Then, contract the muscle for approximately 15 seconds. Follow the contraction with a 30-second stretch. To prevent injury, ensure that you communicate well with your partner so that he stops moving your leg when you begin to feel a stretch. At no time should these stretches produce pain. If you feel pain, reduce the intensity of the stretch until you feel a gentle stretch or slight discomfort.