Flexibility is tremendously important in any and all martial arts. Undoubtedly, a series of warm up stretches will already be a part of regular sessions in clubs around the country, but are you 'reaching' your potential?
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, more commonly known as 'PNF' is a useful form of flexibility training. It involves stretching, relaxing and contracting of the muscle group you want to target.
PNF stretching was originally developed as a form of rehabilitation, and to that effect it is very effective. It is excellent for targeting specific muscle groups, and as well as increasing flexibility, it also improves muscular strength.
How to perform a PNF stretch:
The muscle group to be targeted is positioned so that the muscles are stretched and under tension. The individual then contracts the stretched muscle group for 5 – 6 seconds while a partner, or immovable object, applies sufficient resistance to inhibit movement.
The contracted muscle group is then relaxed and a controlled stretch (should be further than previously achieved) is applied for about 20 to 30 seconds. This process is repeated 2 – 4 times.
Information differs slightly about timing recommendations for PNF stretching depending on who you are talking to, the above should act as a rough guide.
The steps of PNF stretching:
PNF Step #1 The martial artist and partner assume the position for the stretch, and then the partner extends the body limb until the muscle is stretched and tension is felt. (for example, one partner holds the other partners leg out, in a sidekick position.)
PNF Step #2 The athlete then contracts the stretched muscle for 5 – 6 seconds and the partner must inhibit all movement. (If the muscle has been injured, do not apply a maximum contraction).
PNF Step #3 The muscle group is relaxed, then immediately and cautiously pushed past its normal range of movement for about 20 seconds. Allow some recovery before repeating the procedure 2 – 4 times.
The benefits of PNF stretching:
Flexibility improvements are known to be quicker and more drastic when using PNF stretching as opposed to individual (warm up) stretches. As the exercise pushes your muscles past their normal range of movement, progression is tangible and is easy to monitor.
This exercise will also lead to an increase in muscular strength.
How does this help in the martial arts?
In general terms, this kind of stretching will lead to increased levels of flexibility, a higher range of movement, and more muscular strength in the targeted areas. Each of these can lead to improvements of a martial artist.
For most martial arts athletes, this will mean the ability to kick higher, harder and for longer. Whilst an increased range of movement allows better techniques and execution of exercises, whether for competition sparring, or sets/forms.
If you decide to give this exercise a go, make sure you are under the supervision of an experienced and qualified martial arts instructor. We'd also love to hear what you think, get in touch on social media @maomagazine.
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