Sunday, August 20, 2000
By Gregory "Graig" White
As an athlete, you have been instructed to stretch before and after playing or lifting. You have followed a prescribed stretching protocol for some time now, and you have yet to feel any different, besides getting injured will never happen to you. As a result, stretching becomes less and less of your overall conditioning protocol.
Well let me tell you from experience, pulling or straining a muscle can be very painful. An injury of this type could cause you to miss games or valuable training time. I have been asked, "Does flexibility really improve performance?" Yes. The main purpose of our flexibility protocol is to prevent the strains and tears that can occur in muscles during exertion. It also aids in the prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness. Stretching, when done correctly, will enhance your range of motion, which in turn can improve your strength and speed index.
Our flexibility protocol is not a secret nor is it new. We employ a technique called "PNF" stretching. "PNF" stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. And has been touted as the fastest way to improve your static flexibility.
I have had the great fortune of working with two great Flexibility Coaches, Pura Perez and Nancy Pope. I had an opportunity to ask them their thoughts on PNF stretching.
When asked about the technique, Coach Perez says, "PNF stretching began with physical therapy. It uses a series of contractions and relaxation movements of specific muscle groups. The concept of PNF is to stretch, then contract the muscle isometrically for about 15 seconds, relax, and then go deeper into the stretch. By contracting the muscle while it is stretched will make it longer, making it more resistant to injury." Coach Pope goes on to add, "PNF stretching is strenuous on the muscles, stretch each muscle groups 3 to 5 times. And after hard sessions, allow a 24 hour rest period."
PNF stretching is best done with a partner although most of the stretches can be performed alone. If you can work with someone, this will help to keep you focused and "in the moment". One thing to remember is that stretching should not hurt. If while utilizing this technique you feel some pain in the muscle being stretched, try another position or use less force during the isometric contraction. If the pain continues, do not use PNF until you know the cause of the pain.
I will admit, that when I first heard about PNF stretching, I was not totally sold on it. I believe that if something sounds too good to be true it generally is. Well PNF is as good as advertised. Employing this technique on our athletes while working with the Philadelphia 76ers made believers of us all. I now subject all my athletes to it and if you ask them, the will tell you that PNF stretching is the truth.
Photos by Art Redd
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