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What I am going to talk about is getting better movement for yourself by using a relaxing hamstring stretch.
One very easy way to detect hamstring tightness is to lie on your back and try to lift one leg up to vertical with the help of pulling on a towel or strap that is wrapped around your foot. At the same time, you need to keep your leg straight, not bent at the knee. FYI, an “acceptable” angle for this stretch is getting to at least 80 degrees.
If you find this difficult, you are not alone!
But is having tight hamstrings really that bad? After all, don’t most of us have trouble touching our toes sooner or later?
Well, let’s scroll back to elementary school, and consider this. A tight hamstring is like the kid in 6th grade who always sat in the front row, was always raising his/her hand first, and always got the right answer. Busted. What that meant was that the equally smart and attentive kids in the back rows never got a chance to shine.
To draw a parallel to what is going on in your body, when your hamstrings are tight, more subtle players in the hip, pelvis, and low back do not have a chance to do their job. Neither do the big muscles in your backside, the glutes (read more about this in my blog here).
When things are out of whack like that, your muscles don’t get a chance to work together as a team. A tight hamstring will jump in, take over, and dominate, like that kid in your 6th grade class. Getting your hamstrings to relax will let other muscles join in and fire up in synchrony, giving you EFFICIENCY, free movement, and less pain.
So here’s the good part. One really cool and quite passive and relaxing thing you can do is to lie on the floor at a doorway (on a mat or towel), so that one of your legs can get propped against the wall, and the other leg extends through the doorway (see graphic). Keeping your propped leg as straight as possible, scooch closer and closer to the wall until your propped leg feels a good stretch, but not a painful stretch. When you do the stretch this way as opposed to pulling on a strap or towel, it allows you to relax your body and just pay attention to releasing the muscle on the back of your leg.
Stay there, hang out, and see if you can get closer to the wall and straighter with your leg as time goes by, both with this episode and with future attempts at this. Do the other side as well.
If you want to go there, here are a few things you could pay attention to that will help you figure out if there is something more going on with you besides tight hamstrings.
- If the leg that is on the floor is having trouble lying flat, it can mean that the hip flexor muscle at the front of your hip is tight. A good picture of that stretch for that can be found on my blog, “Is Stretching Overrated?”
- Check to see that your two sides can operate independently of one another. If you are tilting your hips, arching your back, or your butt is coming off the floor, you can work on hip motions like leg lifts or leg circles. Watch for a future blog with more details about this. It can also mean that your low back is tight, or even that you need to work on your core.
I know that may sound like a lot of possible complications to this project, especially since I promised some hanging out and relaxation. Take heart! You can still get a ton of benefit from just stretching your hamstrings because it will help you move better throughout the day.
BONUS: if you use this method or are using a towel or strap for the stretch (see graphic), you can also get a good stretch for your calf muscle at the same time if you bend your foot toward your shin. Remember to stop at the point before the stretch gets too intense or painful.
Any hamstring stories? Please comment below.
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