We all do it, feel the effects of repetitive movements and holding patterns, yet we almost always blame it on that one movement where the injury became obvious or often debilitating. For Todays Athlete to function with precision and injury free, it is important that muscles are in balance with each other and that the bones are positioned as they should be. An imbalance in muscle strength will cause a shift in the optimal positioning of the bones causing ineffective and eventually painful movements.
It is important to remember, as muscles get stronger they get shorter, and to adequately strengthen a muscle you must first be able to lengthen it. Balanced stretching and strengthening should be at the forefront of any conditioning program, but how that will look is going to be different from person to person. As you become aware of your repetitive movements and holding patterns, you might find that your workouts are making your condition worse or in fact may be to blame for the disEase. If you find you are overly strong in some muscles groups, yet you continue to strengthen them you will only reinforce the imbalance. The same holds true with stretching, if you stretch a muscle that does not need to be stretched, the imbalance will only be reinforced.
No one is more prone to injury from repetitive movement then Todays Athlete. Often these repetitive movements are overlooked as the cause of injury to our athletes. One such area of concern that I see repeatedly are torn, sprained or injured Hamstrings. How many times have you heard or said to your self, “Ow, My hamstrings are so tight”? What do you do? Do you turn your focus on lengthening the hamstrings?
What if I were to tell you that stretching the hamstrings is often the last thing you should be doing? Maybe you have even experienced this yourself, wondering why your hamstrings are still so tight even after weeks and weeks of intense stretching. My experience has been that the hamstrings are not tight, but weak and fatigued from the constant pull of the hip flexors.
Short and tight hip flexors pull the pelvic bowl forward and the hamstrings have to work harder to keep you from tipping forward. The strengthening exercises for the hip flexors and the stretching exercise for the hamstrings need to come into balance. Think about all the repetitive movement you do that ask for flexion or shortening of the hip flexors plus the strengthening exercises you do that shorten the muscle fibers, yet most of our stretching does not include lengthening the hip flexors, rather the hamstrings.
You may argue, why then do we hear of athletes pulling or straining their hamstrings so often? Lets look at the way the two sets of muscles work. When running or walking the extended leg moving forward calls on the action of the hip flexors (only one of the 4 quads is called to duty during hip flexion) to propel the leg forward. Then as the leg extends back we call on the hamstrings to shorten and the hip flexors to lengthen. Here in lies the problem. If the hamstrings are weaker and contracting and the hip flexors are stronger and not lengthening or letting go efficiently which do you think is going to be on the losing end?
As the hamstring fires to shorten and extend the leg back, if it then meets with resistance from the stronger tighter hip flexors, injury is inevitable. The hamstring can’t compete against the strength of the flexors and tear, strain or are pulled. Then back we go to rehab the injury with the misconception that the injury occurred from a short tight hamstring, not a fatigued weak hamstring. Remember, just because a muscle feels tight that does not mean it is in need of lengthening. It may be tight from chronic tension, or holding, as is the often the case with hamstrings and needs a break, stretching only stresses the muscle more..
Instead turn your focus on lengthening the hip flexors and strengthening the hamstrings. Stretching of the hip flexors is often not an easy task if the quads are so tight you cannot get into a deep enough stretch to reach the hip flexors. But with patience and persistence you can lengthen the quads enough to effectively stretch the hip flexors. The goal is to put your muscles in a more balanced state, decreasing the chance of injury.
I encourage you to become aware of all the work you do to shorten the front side of the body, from sitting to reaching over to pick something up even standing in a ready set, go stance in your sport of choice. Awareness is the first step, observe the imbalances that you are creating out of habit as well as out of need to sustain your role in your sport. For specific stretches and more info visit yogafortodaysathlete.com
Kimberly Hardick is a Yoga Guide and Body worker in Parker County. She is available for group or private instruction. For More information or to contact Kimberly visit ForTodaysAthlete.com