Ow, My Hamstring!

Ow, My Hamstring!

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One of the complaints I hear repeatedly is,  “Wow, my hamstrings are tight.”  But are they really? 

Could it be that they are just not as strong as your quads and are having to work overtime to compete with the growing strength and tightness of your quads.

How many exercises do you do to strengthen your quads? I am sure there a quite a few. How often do you find yourself

Now, name all the different ways you strengthen your hamstrings. Not as many and I would guess you probably do them, o, hardly ……. never. Right?performing these exercises?

How many ways can you think of to stretch your hamstrings? Quite a few and you probably spend more time lengthening the hamstrings then you do strengthening them.

How many ways can you think of to stretch your quads? Do you engage in this activity as often as you lengthen the Hamstrings?  I would venture to guess, no, based on personal experience working with today’s athlete.

Here is the thing, when we have an imbalance in strength in opposing muscles groups, the stronger muscles over power and over work the weaker set of muscles. Often times that sensation of a pulled hamstring is nothing more then a tired, overworked, and underprepared hamstring. It cannot keep up with the demands of the Quads.

Put this theory to the test, come to standing balance on your left foot extend the right foot back, now keep the right foot and head in a straight line as you lower your chest toward the floor keep the standing legged locked out, (it is not showing that here in this photo but it gives you an idea of what I am looking for).

Exhale the hands all the way to the floor making sure the toes of your extended leg are pointed down toward the floor and your hips are parallel. This is important to strengthen all 3 hamstrings evenly and efficiently. On inhale rise up to standing moving the body and leg together, slowly. If you find you are not flexible to come all the way to the floor, use a block or chair. Repeat this 10 times. Then repeat on the other side. As you get stronger you can then add weights to your hands or increase the number of reps.

Sounded easy enough, but what did you feel? Was it a familiar sensation? Like the feeling you get when you say to yourself, Ow, My hamstring is really tight.  Yea?  Me too. So I started to do some deep study and you know what I found out? Most hamstring injuries are not because they are inflexible, but because they are weaker then the quads. Then I learned that most of todays athletes have stronger quads and glutes, and a weak core and hamstrings.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find effective ways to strengthen the hamstrings and then teach today’s athlete to use the hamstrings instead of their quads and glutes?

Try this. Get a friend, lay on your stomach and bend your knees to bring your heels as close to your bum as possible, flex the foot bringing the toes toward the shins.  Now your friend is going to gently try to pull your feet away from your bum and you are going to use your hamstrings and core to keep the heels from moving away.

I said the hamstrings and core, not the glutes and quads! Did you find yourself lifting your pelvis off the floor to engage your quads and glutes? If so, do it again and use those quads!

I have found when I use a ball to create an unstable foundation, I am likely to use my hamstrings a little more efficiently and with greater awareness then when my feet are grounded down into the earth. This exercise is a great way to strengthen the hamstrings, as you exhale extend the legs long and on the inhale bend the knees and role the ball toward you. Move as slow as possible and remember to link the movement with the breath.

There a few more ways to strengthen the hamstrings but these are two of my favorites. Remember strengthening poses should not be done every day so as to allow repair to the muscle, but lengthening poses can and should be done everyday.

hamstring strength  <  quad strength

quad flexibility < hamstring flexibility

Recently researchers tracked hamstring muscle injuries in a single team of 70 players across four playing seasons, with the diagnosis confirmed in each case by magnetic resonance imaging. (‘The effect of sports specific training on reducing the incidence of hamstring muscle injuries in professional Australian Rules football players’, Br J Sports Med 2005; 39:363-368).

They discovered through video analysis that many hamstring injuries happened immediately after the act of flexing at the trunk while running, usually in the process of acceleration and/or attempting to reach down to grasp the ball while running at high speed.  They determined that the risk factor for hamstring muscle injury was fatigue. I must say, I love it when my personal experience is then confirmed by “the professionals”.

The balance of strength and flexibility in the quads and hamstrings is important for balance as it affects the movement above as well as below and is an important piece in maintaining ease, and not disease in today’s athlete.

In my applied Thai yoga session I like to use my feet to apply pressure to the hamstrings while the client is laying on their stomach. I always assumed the ease came from releasing the hamstrings, but I now believe this movement releases the quads as they are in direct contact with the floor and the hamstrings are able to relax a bit from the constant pull of the tight quads. All I know is that when I am with a group of today’s athletes and they see me doing this on to one, they all line up face down waiting patiently for their turn.

Next we will look at ways to effectively lengthen the quads and how creating this flexibly in the quads may actually decrease hamstring injury as well as lesson the strain on the low back.

See you, on the mat!

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