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Active Assisted Stretching – What is it and why do you need it?

The world of stretching can be incredibly confusing. Do this stretch. Don’t do that stretch. Hold statically for 30 seconds. No, hold for two minutes. And the list goes on!


Most of us understand that stretching – in some form or another – is an important to improve our flexibility, training, and how we feel. But let’s be honest, stretching is boring! Even more, though it may feel good at the time, it is really not all that effective.stretching-cat

Does this mean stretching is useless? Absolutely not! In fact, it is a fantastic way to both recover from and prepare for your training, as well as help counter some of those negative, pesky postures we adopt over the course of the day, such as slouching over a laptop or sitting all day.

One of the most effective and time-efficient ways to stretch is proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF stretching. You can also just call it active assisted stretching for ease. PNF is a form of stretching where someone assists you with your stretching and you go through both a stretch and a contraction of select muscle groups.

There are several variations of this type of stretching, but the main idea of PNF it is that the stretches facilitate what’s called muscular inhibition and this is why this type of stretching is so fantastic! Active assisted stretching uses your nervous system to improve your flexibility and functional range of motion. Want to know the best part? Unlike static stretching, it translates into feeling better for longer than just those few seconds you spend with traditional stretching!

During this form of stretching you complete a passive stretch (assisted by another person), then you will contract either this muscle (autogenic inhibition) or its opposing muscle (reciprocal inhibition) followed by another passive stretch where you should be able to get further than where you started.

physio-pic-1This type of stretching causes a reflex reaction from the nervous system that allows the muscle to be further stretched. In the first example – autogenic inhibition – when you contract the same muscle you are stretching a reflex occurs essentially forcing the muscle to relax as a protective mechanism, lengthening the muscle so it protects against muscle tear.

In the second example – reciprocal inhibition – a reflex occurs so the muscle being stretched will relax upon the contraction of its opposing muscle in order to allow that muscle to work. Think about it, if your biceps were contracting, your triceps will relax in order to allow your arm to bend. Both of these muscles cannot be working in opposition of each other at the same time.


physio-pic-2Do you know what the best part about PNF or active assisted stretching is? It is a fast, efficient way of stretching that can help you train harder, move better and feel better.

If you think you would benefit from this type of stretching, let us know and we can help guide you on your journey to moving better and feeling great!

Find out more about our Taylored Training Body Works Program.

Cassie, PT

Lead Physiotherapist


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