Best PNF Exercises For The Splits

Best PNF Exercises for Splits

My goal was always to get the splits. I stretched 2 times a week for months without seeing any progress. Then I took a flexibility class where I learned PNF stretching exercises for front splits which made my stretching routine a lot more effective. Using this technique, I went from barely being able to touch my toes to getting the front splits on both sides in under 5 months!

After taking a flexibility class, I was curious about what PNF is and how I could use this technique to get my front splits fast, so I did a little research. PNF is an advanced stretching technique that is very effective if you want to increase your flexibility and range of motion (ROM). It targets specific muscle groups by stretching and contracting to allow you to gradually stretch further than your maximum range of motion. Let’s dive deeper into what that means and some examples of PNF stretches that you can do to improve your splits training.

Overview


What is Isometric Contraction?

Isometric contraction is a type of muscle contraction used when performing static stretches. “Static” meaning that there is no movement involved. For this type of contraction, you would gently push against the stretch (without moving) for 20-30 seconds then gradually releasing. Your muscles should be engaged the entire time even if it looks like you are just holding a stretch.

What is PNF Stretching?

According to the International PNF Association, this stretching technique was developed by Dr. Herman Kabat in the 1940s. It was used to treat neuromuscular conditions such as polio and multiple sclerosis. Further research done by the University of Queensland (2) has shown that PNF is an effective stretching technique for increasing range of motion. This technique is commonly used by physical therapists for helping clients strengthen injured muscles and improve flexibility.

PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation.

Proprioceptive is the brain’s awareness or sense of where your body is located in space. For example, if you close your eyes you would be able to tell if your arm is resting on your lap or raised out in front of you.

Neuromuscular is your body and all of its nerves. Every movement you make requires your brain to send a signal telling your body to move. Your nerves and muscles work together to form the neuromuscular system.

Facilitation is a response, allowing something to happen.


How to Perform PNF Stretches

This stretching method should not be used by beginners. Seek a fitness professional to make sure that you are doing the moves correctly. See the guidelines below for what muscles should be using this technique for, when and how often you should do it.

Part 1: Isometric Contraction

  • Start by getting into the stretch.
  • Find a position that is close to your maximum level of flexibility (a point where you feel a little bit of discomfort but not enough for it to hurt).
  • Perform an isometric contraction by gently applying force against the stretch.
  • Hold the contraction for 10 seconds and then release. 

Part 2: PNF Stretching

  • Inhale then on the exhale, relax and stretch a little further.
  • Hold for 30 seconds as you breathe.
  • Repeat both parts (1 & 2) for a total of 3 sets on both sides.

By the end, you should be able to stretch a little further. Gradually, you will reach a new maximum.

The results when doing PNF exercises can be seen within the one session. In flexibility class, some of the students would start off about 6 inches from the ground in their splits and by the end, they are able to get their splits. Keep in mind that these results are only temporary. You need to practice daily to keep this new range of motion.

PNF is typically easier to do with a partner (while doing partner stretches). However, you can do this technique alone with yoga straps or blocks and achieve the same results. All you would do is press against the strap then relax on the exhale to get a little further down into the stretch.


How does PNF work?

When we stretch for the splits or to improve our flexibility, our body has receptors that prevent the muscles from stretching too far. This mechanism is called the stretch reflex or myotatic response. It’s basically there to protect us from stretching pass a maximum point so that we don’t get injured. 

Training for flexibility takes a lot of time and patience. We are essentially training the central nervous system (our brains) to be less receptive in order for the muscles to elongate.

PNF Exercises Work in Three Ways:

  1. It pushes the muscles to its limit which triggers an anti-myotatic response so that your body relaxes instead of contracts.
  2. Strengthens the muscles used to hold the stretch.
  3. Builds body awareness and control so that your brain learns that it’s okay to be doing the stretch.

Flexibility improves with practice. Mastering PNF will help you achieve your flexibility goals a lot faster. I used this technique every other day and saw massive improvements in my splits training. By the end of each session, I was getting closer to the ground.


3 Examples of PNF Exercises for Splits

Here are the PNF exercises that helped me get my splits faster. Make sure that you already have a consistent stretching routine and a good foundation before attempting these exercises. The most important thing is to do each exercise correctly.

1) Kneeling Lunge

How it works for splits: Lunges train a lot of the muscles you need to do the splits. It works your hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, inner thighs and core. This exercise is good for those who are just starting to learn about PNF.

  • With your core engaged, step forward with your right leg.
  • Lowering your hips until the back knee is on the ground. Both knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle. Your front knee should be directly above your ankle. Your back knee should line up with your hips.
  • Isometric Contraction: Contract the left hip flexor by driving your back knee through the ground and forward. Hold for 10 seconds.
  • PNF: Inhale and on the exhale, shift your weight forward and adjust the front leg to get a little deeper into the stretch. Once you get to your new maximum, make sure to check if your front knee is directly above your ankle while performing this stretch. Hold for 30 seconds while breathing.
  • Repeat for 3 reps on one side, then switch legs.

2) Hamstring Stretch with Yoga Strap

How it works for splits: In order to do the splits, you need to have flexible hips and hamstrings. Doing this hamstring stretch will help you perform the splits with straight legs.

  • Wrap the yoga strap around your right foot and lay down with your back on the mat.
  • Use the strap to help you raise your right leg to the ceiling. Straighten your leg as much as you can. Find your maximum level of flexibility.
  • Isometric Contraction: With a firm grip on the straps, contract your right leg by pressing your leg into the straps. Contract and hold for 10 secs.
  • PNF: Inhale and on the exhale, relax your leg as you gently pull it closer to the body. Adjust to find your new maximum level. Your leg could move an inch, a few inches or not move at all. It’s important to be completely relaxed even if you experience mild discomfort. If you are not relaxed, your muscles will react by tensing up.
  • Repeat for 3 reps on one side, then switch legs.

3) Front Split Contract

How it works for splits: The best way to practice the splits is by actually practicing the pose. Engaging your inner thighs will help you achieve depth.

  • Place pillows or yoga blocks on the ground.
  • Lower your hips onto the pillows or yoga blocks with one leg in front and one at the back as you get into a splits position. Your hips should be squared (both hip bones should be aligned). Find your maximum position.
  • Isometric Contraction: engage your muscles by squeezing both thighs together. Hold for 10 seconds.
  • PNF: Inhale and on the exhale, relax to slide yourself closer to the ground. Check to see if your hips are still squared. You should never stretch with open hips. Hold and breathe for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for 3 reps on one side, then switch legs.

PNF Safety Guidelines

If you are not familiar with this stretching method, seek out a professional to make sure that you are doing each move correctly. 

  1. Always warm up your muscles before doing PNF stretching.
  2. PNF should only be performed at the end of a workout to increase athletic performance and range of motion.
  3. Only do PNF stretches for large muscle groups (ex. hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, back). This technique should not be used for smaller muscles (ex. arms, calves or shoulders.)
  4. Do not perform more than one PNF stretches for the same muscle group.
  5. You should not perform PNF exercises everyday. There should be at least one rest day between workouts. 
  6. Immediately stop if you feel any pain while stretching. Consult a physician if the pain persists.

Takeaway

PNF stretching is an easy and effective method to help you get your front splits fast. increase your overall flexibility and range of motion.

Best PNF exercises for the splits | Journey to Mobility


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