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Stretching to Increase Flexibility (Part 3 Facilitated Stretching)

Let’s explore the most effective and safe ways to stretch: Static, Dynamic and Facilitated. This post is focused on Facilitated stretching.

Facilitated stretching is one form of PNF (proprioceptive nueromuscular facilitation), yes that is a mouthful of science. Basically it means assisted stretching. This can be with a partner or trainer or with your best friend the yoga strap. PNF is a very in-depth technique and it is wise to train with someone who is trained and certified and might possibly be a physical therapist. You can however work with some self-assisted versions of facilitated stretches. There are two types of PNF, PNF Hold-Relax and PNF Contract-Relax; we are going to focus on CR.

Contract-Relax involves the stretcher, finding the range of motion for the stretchee, backing off slightly with the limb and then asking the stretchee to contract and resist the stretcher as they create resistance. This is held about 6 seconds, then released and the stretcher gently tries to work the limb into a deeper range of motion. This is repeated until the muscle has released to a safe maximum. An example would be having the stretchee lying on the floor with the right leg straight up and the left leg long on the floor, the stretcher works at gaining stretch in the hamstring and therefore moving the leg toward the head.

Can you see the potential injury that might manifest from performing this? Just throwing it out there, becuase I have experience great PNF stretching and scary PNF stretching. The stretcher needs to know how to find the maximum range of motion and not over push or over stretch and potentially tear or strain the stretchee’s muscles or soft tissues. PNF was developed by physical therapists and if you are interested there are courses you can take in it to learn more. I have trained with Human Kinetics and they offer very good courses.

Now that I have scared the pants off you, assisting yourself is a viable option, as long as you know your limits and don’t overdo your stretching. Gentle contraction is the starting place with CR as the technique may react with the joints if you push too hard.

We begin contracting the muscle that you are stretching while in a static stretch. By contracting you trigger the Golgi tendon organ in the muscle and the muscle releases. Yes, a lot of other things happen too, but let’s start with that.

PNF can bring dramatic flexibility increases if used correctly.

We selected three stretches that are useful for pole and aerial arts or just tightness in the upper body. This can be from pull-ups or rock climbing too.

Quadratus Lumborum Stretch

Lengthen the spine, use a yoga strap or towel under the left side. Side bend to your maximum and take up any slack in the strap.Using the strap to stop you, try to lengthen and sit up, isometrically contract the QL for 6 seconds and the release, breathing and relaxing, then deepen the stretch by bending further toward the left side. Find your full range then switch to the other side.

Latissimus Dorsi Stretch

Hold onto a pole or something that will not move. Hinge at the hips and lengthen the spine to feel the lats stretching, isometrically contract the lats for six seconds the release and relax into the stretch. Repeat until you feel stretched.

Pectoral Stretch

Begin standing next to a pole or a wall, with tall posture. Place your forearm on the pole or wall. Use the upper back muscles to pull the arm backward, step in from of the pole or wall until your feel a pec stretch. Push gently against the pole or wall for 6 seconds, the relax. Reset and repeat walking forward as the stretch increases.

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