How to Do PNF Stretches to Improve Flexibility

PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and is one of the best methods for improving passive flexibility. In only a few minutes, it is possible to make drastic and enduring improvements to your flexibility and range of motion. It adds only a few steps to standard passive stretches and is best to do with a partner.


  1. Image titled Do PNF Stretches to Improve Flexibility Step 1
    Warm up the muscles that are going to be stretched. This can be done with brief exercise or massage to the area and is very important. Stretching cold muscles can cause cramps and increase the chances of injury.
  2. Image titled Do PNF Stretches to Improve Flexibility Step 2
    Lay down on a solid surface such as the floor or a treatment table. Your partner will be taking you into the stretches and resisting your strength, so they need to be in a solid stance.
  3. Image titled Do PNF Stretches to Improve Flexibility Step 3
    Have your partner take the limb through the full passive range of motion, mobilizing all joints that the targeted muscles cross. Keep the limb completely relaxed. This helps warm up the joints and shows your partner how far the limb can move prior to applying the stretch.
  4. Image titled Do PNF Stretches to Improve Flexibility Step 4
    Have your partner take you into a passive stretch, preferably targeting specific muscle groups. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  5. Image titled Do PNF Stretches to Improve Flexibility Step 5
    Without moving from the stretched position, isometrically contract the muscle being stretched with about 20% to 50% of your strength for 8 to 15 seconds. Your partner should support you so that nothing moves and no other muscles are contracting but those being stretched. For example, if you're stretching the hamstrings of one leg, your partner should have your calf on his/her shoulder. Your knee should not bend, your back should not lift up or turn, and your opposite leg should not move.
  6. Image titled Do PNF Stretches to Improve Flexibility Step 6
    After 8 to 15 seconds of isometric contraction, relax the muscles and have your partner take the limb slowly through its range of motion a few times. This allows the muscles to relax and recover for the next repetition.
  7. Image titled Do PNF Stretches to Improve Flexibility Step 7
    Repeat the stretch/contract/relax sequence as desired. There should be a noticeable increase in range of motion with each repetition.


  • Maintain the flexibility by stretching daily on your own.
  • Move into the stretch while exhaling.
  • Don't turn the stretches into a contest with your partner. Don't try to overpower them and therefore lose the stretch. The contraction should be smooth and stable.
  • It's normal to experience some initial weakness in the muscles that are worked. This is a combination of fatigue and the muscles re-balancing to support your body weight. It should go away after a day or so, if you stay hydrated.
    • Don't overdo it. It's possible to gain an additional 45+ degrees of flexibility in less than an hour with PNF. The farther you take it, the more the body has to readjust. Over-stretching the muscles can lead to joint instability, cramping, and increased likelihood of injury. Maintain balance and progress smoothly over time.
  • If you hit a point where no improvement is being made, perform PNF on the opposing muscle groups as well as any other muscles that cross the same joint as the muscle group you're focusing on. Also, make sure that the stretch isn't being restricted by clothing.
  • Communicate with your partner. Let them know when you can feel the stretch so they know when to stop the movement.
  • Partner: While stretching, support the joint closest to the muscles being stretched and only move one joint at a time. Be stable and never force anything. Use your structure instead of strength to support the stretch.
  • Wear loose clothing so you're not restricted while moving.
  • Target muscle groups as specifically as possible. Don't try to stretch both legs at once, for example.
  • Hydrate. Drink plenty of water before and after stretching to prevent the muscles from cramping.
  • Stretch opposing muscle groups. With the drastic changes in flexibility that are possible with PNF, it is very important to stretch opposing muscles. Not doing so can result in structural imbalances in the body, cramping, and increased chances of injury. For example, if you stretch your hamstrings, be sure to also stretch the quadriceps. If you stretch the abductors, stretch the hip and glutes as well. This balance is very important.


  • Move into the stretches slowly and smoothly. Jerky movements lead to injury.
  • If you feel any sharp, sudden, or tearing pain, STOP immediately and apply ice to the area. Seek medical attention if needed.
  • NEVER stretch an injured muscle or joint.
  • Support the joint closest to the muscle being stretched. This prevents hyperextension and dislocation of joints during the stretch and contraction. This is far more important in PNF than in standard stretches because of the contraction involved.
  • Make sure your partner is experienced in stretching techniques and is capable of supporting you in the stretch.
  • Warm up the muscles before stretching. Not doing so is one of the leading causes of injury and cramping in stretching.

Things You'll Need

  • A partner.
  • Knowledge of basic passive stretches

Article Info

Categories: Warm Ups Stretching and Flexibility