However, stretching your muscles – and stretching them correctly – should be an important part of your training. In fact you can hold yourself back and even get injured from a lack of flexibility – especially your hamstrings.
Hamstrings are the crux of many basic movements such as Squats and Deadlifts. They are essential to eliminating the dreaded butt wink, and also one of the first places to have a look at if you struggle with knee, hip or low back pain. As a large two-joint muscle (hamstrings attach to both the hip and the knee) they have a lot of influence in how you move. If they’re not functioning correctly due to inflexibility, the slack will be picked up by your quads and pelvis, which ultimately leads to lower scores or even injury. You have to stretch them on regular basis.
The key here is how to stretch the hamstrings properly.
Rather that straining your lower back in an awkward forward fold, you focus should be on the hips. Specifically, two small bones at the base of your pelvis where your hamstrings attach, called Ischial Tuberosities or the “sit bones”. They got this nickname for being the two bones you sit on – you can find them by placing your hands on your bum when sitting, the two boney lumps are your Ischial Tuberosities.
Basic standing hamstring stretch
As you bend over and if your hamstrings are tight, they will pull on your sit bones, causing your pelvis to tuck under your body. This in turn will put pressure on your sacrum and lumbar spine and give you a poor hamstring stretch. The same will happen when seated; if your legs are straight out in front and your hamstrings are very tight, they will pull the sit bones and the pelvis will turn into a tucked position. This needs to be corrected in order to stretch properly. You can eliminate it by simply tilting your hips.
- Start standing, place your hands on your bum and look for your Ischial Tuberosities in your cheeks.
- Start to bend forwards and notice what happens – do they tuck under?
- Force your hips up, aiming to keep your Ischials pointing directly behind you as you fold.
You should feel an increased stretch down your hamstrings, relieving pressure off your low back. Another good test is to use a PVC pipe on your back, one hand on the PVC at your neck, the other at the top of your lumbar spine.
- Bend forwards while keeping the back of both hands in contact with your spine at all times, tilting your hips up and keeping your back flat as you fold.
Try to maintain this position throughout any hamstring stretch, even if it means you can’t get down as far – you will get a better stretch and in the long term much more flexible hamstrings. Think: lead with the chest, not with the nose.
If you’re struggling with hamstring flexibility, implement this pelvic tilt with these stretching exercises as often as you can, especially after exercise:
Lying PNF Hamstring Stretching
PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching is a very effective method. It works on the stretch reflex by contracting and relaxing muscles throughout the stretch to increase range of motion. Lay down so it will help to eliminate the pelvic tilt without much effort required.
- Start by lying on your back and loop a towel, resistance band, rope, your hands etc. around one leg, extend it as straight as possible, as close to 90 degrees as you can before your hips begin to tuck.
- Push your leg away from the band at around 25% effort, as if trying to lower it back down, engaging your hamstrings and some quad strength for around 5-10 seconds.
- Relax your leg quickly.
- Using this relaxation as a stretching aid, stretch the straight leg up further towards your body as you relax using your leg muscles and assistance from the band.
- Hold for 10 seconds in this new stretch position and repeat the cycle. Aim for around 5-6 cycles. Repeat on the other leg.
Wall Hamstring Stretch
This stretch focuses on keeping the back straight and the pelvis in the correct position.
- Grab a chair or stand in front of a wall. Place your hands on the back of the chair or on the wall and walk back until your arms are extended with your elbows by your ears and back is flat.
- Bring your attention to your hips, notice have they begun to tuck under? If so, walk back closer to the wall until you can get your sit bones pointing straight back. Imagine exaggerating the
- Lumbar Spine curve and only go down as far as you can maintain a correct pelvis position.
- Hold for around 20-30 seconds, release, then repeat 3 times
Downward Dog is a beneficial yoga stretch which engages the whole body, as long as you’re hitting the correct position. In Downward dog, try to imagine yourself as an upside down letter V.
- Begin in a child’s pose position: kneeling on your shines, chest on your knees and arms spread out as far forwards as you can (also a lovely back stretch).
- Tuck your toes and push through your feet and hands as you lift your hips up, keeping your knees into your chest. Really think about tilting your pelvis up towards the sky, don’t let it tuck under as you lift up.
- Lift your hips up higher, engaging your shoulders and elbows and begin to straighten your legs. The ultimate aim is to have the heels on the floor with straight legs and a perfect lumbar spine curve.
If you cannot straighten your legs, or get your heels anywhere near the floor, don’t worry about it, you’ll get there with practice. For the time being, leave the heels slightly raised and the knees slightly bent, the focus should be on tilting the pelvis high.
Make sure to have done some form of warming up before carrying out these stretches, imagine stretching a ball of cold blu tack, it isn’t very elastic straight out of the packet until it has been in contact with heat. If you aren’t doing a WOD or other training, try doing a couple of minutes of jogging, star jumps, or lunges to get the body ready to stretch.