Monday, May 17, 2010
Hamstring Stretch: Various Positions can be Key to Flexibility
Hamstrings tightness is very common to athletes. Stretching of the hamstrings is one of the 3 most important lower extremity stretches that should be done both before (to prevent injury) and after (to gain flexibility and relax muscles) exercise. The other 2 muscle/tendon groups crucial to stretch are achilles and quadriceps. Various posts will be dedicated to each variation of stretch. I feel most stretching articles are too overwhelming with 5 plus exercises. I would rather you understand one well, before proceeding further.
The photo above shows the basic lower hamstring stretch getting the muscle/tendon loose around the back of the knee. The patients are told to place their heel on an elevated surface, like a chair or bench, where they feel no tension placing it there. The knee should be held straight and the toes straight upwards. The patient should not attempt to touch their toes which places too much stress on the back. It is emphasized to the patient to lean forward over the leg being stretched feeling the bend at the hip joint, not the back. Imagine the back as completely straight. Lean forward over the leg until you feel tension behind the knee. It is very important since you are standing on one leg to feel very stable. Be near a wall or table that you can hold on with your arms if needed to gain stability.
Once you feel a great stretch, hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds (I love 8 deep breathes to get oxygen into the stretch. With every exhale, go slightly deeper into the stretch). There should never be pain with stretching either during or after. Pain during stretching will always mean 2 hours later you are tighter than when you started. Pain after stretching means you stretched too hard and next time stretch easier. Please read the separate post on Generalizations of Stretching.
When stretching both legs, I like to alternate sides. The three stretch variations for the lower hamstring is all based on the big toe position. Let us discuss the right side, and I will leave it up to you to do the opposite for the left side. With the big toe at 12 o'clock, lean forward over the leg until you feel the pull of the hamstring behind the knee. Hold this painfree stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, or 8 deep breathes. Then do the left side. The second stretch for the right side is with the big toe at/near 9 o'clock. This gets a greater stretch on the medial hamstrings (semi-tendinosis and semi-membranosis). Then do the left side. The third stretch for the left side is with the big toe near 3 o'clock. This gets a greater stretch on the lateral hamstrings (biceps femoris).
You may be very surprised that one of the three stretches gets the sore muscle/tendon better than the other two. If so, do one more stretch to this variation for 8 more deep breathes, or go back it that stretch alone several times a day. Soon I will have a post on Upper Hamstring Stretching (the apparent mystery stretch to 99% of my patients whom have never heard of it).