Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stop stretching your hamstrings…it’s a waste of time

You ever seen the guy in the gym with hamstrings so tight you could bounce a quarter off of them and they’d bounce back five nickels? Does that same guy stretch his hamstrings for 10 minutes every time he goes to the gym and still sees no change in his hamstring length?


What’s better than stretching your hamstrings? Well let’s look at things in a much more panoramic perspective than the simple A to B logic of “i’m tight, therefore i stretch”.

The quality of movement that an organism (i.e.-Tight hamstring guy) will determine the resting length of a muscle. A muscle will only lengthen when it feels that it is safe to do so. In order for it to feel safe, it must not be yanked on all the time (the only instance where this is not the case is in people with sever adhesions in there muscles, which are less likely to appear in the hamstrings anyway). Stretching your hamstrings is like trying to untie a knot by pulling on it, instead of figuring out how the knot works and then gently untying it.

Some things to try first…

1) Test your hamstring flexibility first and then try a hip flexor strengthening exercise like Full situps (while on your back with your knees bent and feet anchored, place your hands behind your head with the elbows pulled back. Do a situp while keep the spine straight. On the way down, try not to round, and touch your shoulder blades to the floor first). Repeat 10 more times with as close to perfect form as possible. Afterwards, re-test your hamstring length and see if you notice a change. If you do, then congratulations, you didn’t stretch your hamstrings, you have now just taught your pelvis how to become stable and move through a full range of flexion, thus allowing the hamstrings to relax during a forward bend. This is a movement dysfunction, not a tight muscle problem.

2) The Romanian Deadlift is also a great exercise for the posterior chain muscles of the body (hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors to name a few of the important characters), and also serves as a loaded stretch. This moves the hamstrings into a lengthened position while also strengthening them at the end range of motion. When done with good form, the romanian deadlift will improve flexibility while also improving fitness–see: “two birds, one stone”. I also recommend learning proper squatting and lunging movement patterns, as these also help strengthen and support the muscles of the hips, legs and trunk, while allowing the hamstrings to lengthen in function.

3) And lastly, your postural and daily movement habits are more important to hamstring length than any amount of stretching. If you sit at a desk all day, your body will just adapt to meet the demands of the chair. However, if you make it a point of taking the stairs everyday, adopting a movement practice that moves your body under control, then you will start to see that your hamstrings can achieve length and stay that way without wasting time on stretching.

Read. Digest. Act.

Posted by The Sarcastic Strength Coach

1 comment:

Angela West said...

Hi Pete how to squat bend and pick up safely?