A forever evolving business actively pursuing and growing a range of exercise and health related enterprises.

Improving Athletic Performance Through PNF Stretching: Part 2

Blog image

In my previous post (Improving Athletic Performance Through PNF Stretching Part 1) I covered the mechanics of muscle and how the length and strength of a muscle are related. In this, I will deal with how to perform PNF stretching to maximise performance.

PNF stretching is most commonly completed in a partner assisted setting – with the process almost requiring that this is so. It is possible however to complete PNF without the use of a practitioner while still gaining considerable results.

There are four stages in a PNF stretch:

  1. Antagonist contraction (opposite muscle to the one being stretched).
  2. Static stretch.
  3. Agonist contraction (the muscle being stretched).
  4. Static stretch.

I will discuss each of these four stages, using a hamstring stretch as an example (see picture below).

Stage One: Antagonist contraction.

How to do it:
In this stage, the subject contracts the muscle that has the opposite action to the muscle being stretched. In our example, when stretching the hamstrings, the muscles involved in flexing the hip (the quadriceps and hip flexor musculature) are activated, causing the leg to flex at the hip and the hamstrings to be placed in a lengthened state. Hold for 20 seconds.
How it works:
This works due to a fancy sounding phenomenon called ‘Reciprocal Inhibition’. Basically, this tells us that when a muscle contracts, the opposite muscle relaxes. If the opposite muscle didn’t relax – the resulting co-contraction of the muscles around a joint would make any movement impossible. Reciprocal Inhibition allows efficient movement. Reciprocal = opposite. Inhibition = turns off.
When the quadriceps and hip flexor musculature contract, the opposite muscle group (the hamstrings) turns off.

Stage Two: Static Stretch.

This allows for the relaxation of the muscle and for the change in length to take effect. Hold for 20 seconds.

Stage Three: Agonist Contraction.

How to do it:
In this stage you are contracting the muscle that is being stretched. As the muscle is being stretched you are basically fighting the stretch. In our example, while the hamstring is being stretched you are contracting the hamstrings to try and push the leg out of the stretch. Hold for 20 seconds.
How it works:
This works by addressing structures in your body that detect muscle movement, force and position, called Golgi Tendon Organs. When a muscle is contracted for a sustained period, these Golgi Tendon Organs cause the muscle to relax, allowing for an increase in muscle length.

Stage Four: Static Stretch.

This allows for the relaxation of the muscle and for the change in length to take effect. Hold for 20 seconds.


I have many clients (both athletes and the chronically tight) who see me on a weekly basis for partner assisted PNF stretching to increase mobilisation as part of our flexibility program.

I can be contacted here to arrange a complimentary consultation.

Stay tuned for future video blogs where I’ll take you through the exact techniques for PNF stretching. Also, for those of you interested in increasing athletic performance, the next few weeks will see a series of psychological training tools to increase your mental game.

For those of you interested in more of the same, check out Kelly Starrett's blog at mobilitywod.com (if you aren't already). Some great practical tools for increasing all things mobility.

PNF works. It really works. Try these techniques and you’ll never go back to standard static stretching.

Dan Williams
Accredited Exercise Physiologist
Level One CrossFit Coach
Director, Range of Motion



   Dan Williams

   BSc., BEx. Rehab. Sc., AEP, AES, MESSA 
   DIRECTOR - Range of Motion
   Accredited Exercise Physiologist
   Accredited Exercise Scientist
   Level One CrossFit Coach and CrossFit Affiliate Owner

   Contact Dan Williams