Stretching - The Hamstrings

Stability Stretching Series™: For Runners

*Don’t confuse sensation with effectiveness!*

The Hamstrings – Version II (seated)

Purpose:
Lengthen the hamstrings while maintaining neutral alignment of the pelvis and low back

Common mistake:
Allowing the pelvis to rotate posteriorly (back) and the low back to flex. Notice how the pelvis rotates back and the spine rounds as I try and ‘feel’ a greater stretch in my hamstring (image 1). 

Why is this important?
Generally, the muscles of your low back tend to be more flexible than your hamstrings. Therefore when most runners attempt to stretch their hamstrings, which tend to be tighter or more taut than their low back muscles, they are usually over-stretching the low back. Over time this creates weakness in these muscles, which inhibits or weakens their ability to contribute to core stability. To compensate for this weakness, the nervous system will try to protect itself from injury by reflexively tightening  the hamstrings. In essence, stretching in this manner contributes to and perpetuates the very problem it is trying to correct. 

Stability Stretching Strategy™:

  1. Sit on a bench or chair so that your spine and pelvis are aligned (see image 2). Align your trunk and pelvis so that your pelvis is tilted slightly anterior (forward) and there is a small, gentle arch in your low back (image 2).
  2. Lean forward slightly by rotating or tilting your pelvis forward without losing alignment of your trunk or spine.
  3. Once you tilt as far forward as you are able, flex your ankle by pulling your foot towards you while you straighten your knee. Hold this stretch for 5 seconds through your exhalation. Repeat for 3-5 reps per side. 

Remember: *Don’t confuse sensation with effectiveness!*
Don’t try to force this stretch in order to ‘feel’ a stronger stretch in your hamstrings. Just because you ‘feel’ a deeper stretch by forcing it doesn't mean it is better for you.Your nervous system will lengthen your hamstrings as much as it needs to when you respect the proper alignment and control of your core. Remember that optimal stability will improve your posture and running more significantly than will having great flexibility without the requisite stability.