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IAFC 2022 Session Highlight:  PNF in the Pool
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PNF in the Pool

By Terri Mitchell, PTA, BA

Functional movement blends flexion/extension, adduction/abduction, and external/internal rotation involving two or more joints. PNF patterns work well in muscle re-education while providing a means to address strength and balance in the musculature.

Functional movement rarely demonstrates only one muscle or a single movement plane. Rather, functional movement is a blend of flexion/extension, abduction/adduction, and internal/external rotation involving two or more joints. These functional patterns are known as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). PNF patterns are notable for their spiral and diagonal components. These combinations allow optimal elongation of intended musculature.

Think about your everyday life and the spiral and diagonal components of your movements.  When you get out of bed, do you take the covers from your chin and fling them open as you get up?  What about brushing your hair, or putting your wallet in your back pocket?  How about putting on your seat belt?  Or, playing pickleball?  How about curtsying after teaching a fabulous class?  All suggestions include moving the upper extremities or lower extremities in a spiral and diagonal pattern.

PNF patterns were originally developed and performed in a dry-land environment. Advantages of performing PNF in the aquatic environment include:

  • Buoyancy can either assist, resist, or support
  • Viscosity increases resistance throughout the motion
  • Body positions take advantage of the three-dimensional effect for more variety
  • Principles of inertia, action/reaction, acceleration, surface area, and lever length can increase or decrease intensity

To apply PNF to water exercises, simply move limbs on the diagonal plane.  Or travel on the diagonal plane.  For example, ski to corners of the pool, use figure 8 arms with jumping jacks, rotate hips outward and inward with jumping jacks, cross kick to the opposite corner, etc.

Try a Curtsy.  This exercise includes hip internal and external rotation, hip extension and flexion, and hip adduction and abduction.  It works on balance, coordination, range of motion, strength, and endurance.  The arms naturally move in a diagonal plane for balance and range of motion.  The right hip rotates outward and extends as the right foot taps behind the left leg. Alternate right and left legs. Perform 8-16 repetitions. Cue: “Sweep arms horizontally towards the foot.”

  • Add on a wide kick.  Curtsy, then flex the right hip to the right corner. Alternate right and left legs. Cues: “Curtsy, kick.” and “Arms sweep in a diagonal to follow the foot.”
  • Change tempo. Try a single, single, double rhythm.
  • Perform repeaters.  Complete multiple reps on one leg before changing sides. 


Join me at IAFC 2022 to learn how to incorporate more diagonal and rotational components into your basic aquatic fitness exercises.  Expand your programming and improve your participants’ training outcomes by taking PNF to the pool!


Terri Mitchell, a previous AEA Training Specialist for 25 years, continues to teach aquatic fitness classes and share her ideas and experience. Her programs are motivated by music themes, power combos, and fun. She is also a licensed Physical Therapist Assistant with an Aquatic Specialty, providing orthopedic and neuro patients with techniques and guidance to improved functional outcomes.

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