Help me with my hamstrings

  • MSUBioNerd

    Posts: 1813

    Jan 05, 2009 4:03 AM GMT
    Alright, I've always been pathetically inflexible in my hamstrings. Most flexibility outside of the hamstrings I'm either normal or actually limber, but I can't touch my toes with my knees straight and my shoes off. The most flexible I've ever gotten in my hamstrings got me to the point of being able to put the last knuckle of my left hand over my left toenails when stretching just the left leg, or the tip of my right fingers to the tip of my right toes when stretching just the left leg. When seated and stretching both hamstring at once, I have never once in my life gotten my fingers to touch my shoeless toes.

    I know that the standard advice is to stretch daily, hold the stretch for 30-45 seconds, don't bounce, and it will come. Well, honestly, that doesn't work for me. In the past I've done hamstring stretches every day for 6 months and seen no improvement after the first week.

    The goal at the moment isn't the stunning flexibility of the people I see doing yoga and nonchalantly putting their palms flat on the floor. It's possible that I will never be able to achieve that, as there is underlying variation in the length of tendons. I just want to be able to touch my toes, or be able to hold one leg parallel to the floor while standing on the other; at the moment I can do so with my thigh but I can't bring my calf up to match.

    So, how do I change this?

    Should I use a towel to pull myself toward my feet? Should I bend at the waist holding weights with my arms bent, so that their weight helps pull my downward? Is it a bad idea to work on this daily, in that maybe I should give myself a longer recovery period? Should I focus on stretching other areas which will help me? Do I need to hold stretches for longer? Something else?

    Any advice from someone who has actually increased his flexibility would be greatly appreciated.
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    Jan 05, 2009 4:09 AM GMT
    Palates.
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    Jan 05, 2009 4:37 AM GMT
    I've always been able to touch my toes with my fingertips. But after I started doing stiff legged deadlifts, I was able to touch the floor with my palms. Of course, this was after some time of training. It's a real gradual process.

    I usually perform the exercise standing on a couple of stacked 45lbs plates, so that I can get an extra stretch on the down position.
  • MSUBioNerd

    Posts: 1813

    Jan 05, 2009 9:27 PM GMT
    shameless bump in search of more advice
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    Jan 05, 2009 9:54 PM GMT
    Some questions:

    1) How long do you hold your stretches.

    2) What are you doing with breathing while stretching? Anything?

    3) What are you thinking about when you stretch (I'm serious on this question)

    4) What stretches have tried and failed at? Have you tried any that use bands/ropes around your feet while lying flat on your back?

    5) When was the last time you had a therapeutic massage on your legs?

    6) Have your ever seen a podiatrist in your life? If so, why, and what was the outcome?
  • MSUBioNerd

    Posts: 1813

    Jan 05, 2009 10:09 PM GMT
    1) I typically hold a stretch for somewhere between 30 an 45 seconds.

    2) Trying not to gasp in pain, if it's a hamstring stretch. Otherwise, just maintaining an even tempo.

    3) I'm either counting down how much long I'm supposed to hold it or thinking something along the lines of "Oh God this hurts" if it's a hamstring stretch. Other stretches are just counting

    4) I pretty universally fail at hamstring stretches.

    Standing version have included:

    -feet together, bend at the waist, aim for the toes.
    - feet wide, bend at the waist, aim for the floor.
    - feet wide, bend at the waist, aim for either foot.

    Seated versions have involved:

    - Legs straight in front, knees against the floor, bend forward and aim for the toes.
    - As above but with one knee straight and the other foot folded to press against the thigh.
    - Start with fingers wrapped over the toes and knee bent, try to straight the leg.
    - Legs making a 90 degree angle to each other, bend forward.
    - Legs making a 90 degree angle to each other, bend toward either foot.

    Lying down, I've tried putting my foot in the middle of towel and grabbing the two ens with my hands, pulling back to try to get one foot vertical while the other stays on the floor. That only lasted about two weeks before I ripped the towel, and I never got my leg vertical.

    5) Never. Honestly, strangers touching me makes me very tense. I think that defeats most of the purpose of a massage.

    6) Never been to one. I've never had any foot pain that lasted for more than a day, and I've got very stable arches. The salespeople at the running store have recommended neutral running shoes because their analysis of my foot shape and stride says I don't need as much arch support as most people.
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    Jan 05, 2009 10:29 PM GMT
    OK, here's my prescription*


    • Hold your stretches for at least 60 seconds. When you get to the point where you enjoy your stretches, then you can go longer, cause you'll want to.
    • Find a muscle that you enjoy stretching, and start with that one. Use it to get into a mindset where you're giving a gift to your body, not torturing it.
    • Think about your breathing when you are stretching. Elongate your breath like you're elongating your muscles. Your breathing is more important than you think. You're a biologist. I think you understand what happens to your heart rate and blood pressure when you slow your breath and increase its depth.
    • When you stretch, you should think of the muscle fibers unlocking. Like your fingers are interlocked and slowly slowly slipping apart. Again, you're a biologist, you need to visualize this. This visualization will allow you to adjust the tension of the stretch to match the actual relaxation of the muscle. If you are pushing past where the muscle is ready to release then you are torturing, not gifting your body. If you think of the muscle and put your entire head inside it, you will know to be gentle but insistent. The stretch, especially when you are tight, needs to be a process where you listen and feel the muscle responding. You need to work WITH it, not in spite of it.
    • I'd try the lying on your back with a rope or rubbery thingy around your feet, slowly pulling your stiff leg up as far as your hamstrings tell you. Unless you are using one of those gigantic beach towels, they are going to be too short. The fact that you ripped one says to me that you are going about this process like some sort of machine or robot that isn't listening to his body. Calm down and pay attention. No ripping of anything allowed.
    • This will take weeks and months to progress. Be patient. Your goal every time you stretch will be to feel better after the stretch than you did before. Don't get obsessed with some OCD measure of maximum distance or some shit like that.
    • If you have a problem with strangers touching you, that certainly is a barrier. Maybe you could have a couple shots of tequila and try a theraputic massage with a well-recommended therapist and have this person focus on your legs. Often stretches are not enough if you've had a decade or two of abusing your body.
    • I'm assuming, based on your answer, that your feet are fine, so I'm scratching off foot problems or walking problems as a potential issue, altho I reserve the right to not get slammed if a kinesiologist looks at you some night in a bar and says you don't know how to walk.


    * Warning: Iguana is not a medical professional, often talks out of his ass, suffers from an excess of irony, and may cause severe indigestion. Iguana is not recommended for those suffering from crankyness, excessive manliness, or irritable bowel syndrome.
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    Jan 05, 2009 11:48 PM GMT
    get massage. Sorry. I know you donĀ“t want to hear it. It is likely to make a difference.

    Also experiment with your muscles during stretching. In Iyengar yoga you are encouraged to "pull up" the muscles (quads, hams etc) as you stretch forward, so that you knee "smiles". This may make a difference. It may not.

    Men are often hellishly tight in the hams.
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    Jan 10, 2009 5:26 AM GMT
    *Note* The 60 second stretch has been proven to be almost the same effectiveness as 30 seconds of stretching.

    Also *note* doing lifts like Roman Dead lifts and Good Morning also help with flexibility if you use light weight and so it under control.

    One more thing...Check your fluid intake, and I don't mean just water, Gatorade and Powerade will help with flexibility too. Pickle juice also does, but not ever has a taste for it.
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    Jan 11, 2009 6:11 PM GMT
    Hello BioNerd?

    * sounds of echoing in empty room *

    I thought of something at the gym today. If you've got issues with people touching you, have you discovered the miracle of the foam roll for self massage? This might be a good compromise.
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    Jan 13, 2009 5:39 PM GMT
    I would suggest trying other types of stretches in addition to the static passive stretches you have been doing. My stretching routine also includes dynamic, static active, isometric, and PNF stretches. Taking a yoga class may be a good starting point because it incorporates many of these types of stretches.

    A good reference is "Stretching Scientifically: A guide to flexibility training" by Thomas Kurz. It's a relatively easy read despite the title.

    There are other sources online too with the same information and are free:
    http://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/flexibilitytraining.html

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    Jan 13, 2009 5:44 PM GMT
    After you exercise your hams, stretch 'em.

    Stand up and touch your toes! icon_biggrin.gif
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    Jan 13, 2009 5:45 PM GMT
    Another method is laying flat on your back while someone puts your ankles up around your neck. You may find it more pleasing.
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    Jan 15, 2009 3:21 AM GMT
    Muchmore,

    This is a great idea. I'm notorious for my tight hams and don't know why I didn't think of that first!

    I'm glad you're back.icon_biggrin.gif
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    Jan 15, 2009 7:18 PM GMT
    I'll stretch your hams, 26miley

    icon_lol.gif
  • JohnDallas

    Posts: 87

    Jan 18, 2009 10:35 PM GMT
    iguanaSF saidHello BioNerd?

    * sounds of echoing in empty room *

    I thought of something at the gym today. If you've got issues with people touching you, have you discovered the miracle of the foam roll for self massage? This might be a good compromise.


    I was about to recommend this as well. Perform this after your stretching. It will be painful but well worth the effort.

    Also make sure you stretch your IT band as well as your erector spinae group. These can also effect your hamstrings if they are overly tight.
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    Jan 19, 2009 10:03 AM GMT
    I was in the exact same situation as a runner and was always yelled at for my lack of flexibility from trainers. i was so bad that while i was standing up trying to touch my toes... i only got to my ankles. icon_redface.gif
    Here's what helped me:
    **** A proper warm up was HUGELY important
    * Patience... deep breaths
    *Stretching surrounding/ complementary muscles
    * Lifts (Good mornings, Romanian deadlifts, snatch deadlifts, even deep squats etc)
    * Dedication and a little bit of masochistic tenancies

    Good luck!!! i know its painful as hell to stretch those hammies but keep it up. the painful stretching is nothing compared to a tear.
  • asana

    Posts: 53

    Feb 20, 2009 3:05 PM GMT
    I've had problems too with short hamstrings, mostly from growing up as a distance runner and not really stretching. When i started university I started taking yoga and pilates classes, and didn't see much of a benefit. I added more and more stretching, and my hamstrings wouldn't budge, even though I was getting more and more flexible everywhere else. I was forcing it and forcing it and eventually tore a tendon, which forced me to take a break. I started getting massages and seeing chiropractors and an osteopath and even a doctor. Apparently all of my forcing had actually been part of the problem. The forcing had been causing small tears in my tendons, which as they would heal, would get shorter and even more inflexible, so all of the flexibility I was adding to the muscle was being taken away by my short, damaged tendons. After everything healed, I started stretching again, but this time using just my own body weight, and not trying to force it, but holding my stretches for a minute or so. Since then, my flexibility has actually been improving. So, my advice is don't use weights, and be gentle. If you aren't comfortable with getting massages, try placing a tennis ball under your thigh while seated on the ground, and rolling it along the length of your hamstrings (mentioned here: http://www.realjock.com/article/1218/). I hope this helps!
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    Mar 02, 2009 6:55 AM GMT
    okay, this may get a bit complicated here, and it would be far easier to show you than tell this to you, but as that isn't really an option, bear with me.

    if the stretching advice given to you so far has not helped you, consider doing a stretching modality called active isolated stretching (a.i.s.). it operates a bit differently from the modalities suggested thus far. to specifically address your hamstrings in a general way, you need to open up the posterior chain of your legs distally to proximally. so, without getting too much in the theory behind a.i.s. (i'll give you a link to follow through on it if you are really that interested), you will need a bit of rope and be on your back (does that grab your attension yet? HA!).

    anyway, the rope needs to be long enough for you to wrap around your foot and hold in your hands because the rope will be assisting you in the stretch. so start off with the rope around your foot and in your hands while you are on your back. you will actually start by stretching out your gastrocnemius (calves) first. in order to maximally stretch out your calves, the other muscles in the lower posterior chain need to be open; otherwise their limitations of range will directly affect the adjacent muscles of your hamstrings.

    you need to be on your back (or at least your leg needs to be perpendicular to the pull of gravity) because you have to isolate the muscle you are attempting to stretch from its normal load under gravity (in other words, you can't stretch the back of your legs when standing, because while you are bending over trying to stretch them out, they are in a state of contraction trying to hold you up. you fight against yourself).

    now with the rope in your hands, flex the antagonist/opposite muscle (tibialis anterior) to point your toes toward your nose. at the very end of your range of movement, then and only then do you GENTLY assist by pulling on the rope to move your foot 1 or 2 degrees past its currrent range and hold for NO LONGER than 2 seconds. relax your leg and repeat for 10-12 reps, gently gaining only 1-2 degrees with each rep.

    after the calves, you will move upward towards the popliteal area (the area right behind the knee; the distal end of your hamstrings). to start, you will be on your back. the non-involved leg (the leg you are not stretching) can be bent if you have low back problems. the rope is still around your foot. you will lift the leg as high as you can WITHOUT bending the knee. once you have determined what angle this is, this becomes you starting point.

    from here, you will fully bend your knee (full knee flexion by flexing your hamstrings), while keeping your femur (upper leg) at the same beginning angle. then you will flex your quads so you will go to full knee extension (lock your knee). you will find that you will feel a stretch right behind the knee as you flex your quads. same rules apply here. at the end of the knee extension (while still keeping your quads engaged), gently pull on the rope while slowing raising your leg from the starting angle 1-2 degrees only and holding for NO LONGER than 2 seconds. relax the knee (in flexion) and repeat for 10-12 reps. by the end of this, the area behind your knee should be a bit more opened up. now you can move onto the belly of your hamstrings.

    for this part, you must have your leg completely relaxed (you are still on your back) and the rope still around your foot. from here, you will keep your knee locked (full knee extension) while raising your leg as far as it can go (full hip flexion to your current maximum range). once you have reached the full range of motion, gently pull the rope to move your leg 1-2 degrees past your current full range and hold it for NO LONGER than 2 seconds. then fully relax your leg on the ground and repeat for 10-12 reps. you should find yourself slowly increasing your range of motion in your hamstrings.

    i realize that using words to explain all of this isn't necessarily the best way to convey this information, but i've tried to be as detailed as possible without geeking out too much on the muscle terminolgy. if you want to learn more about the reasoning behind a.i.s. , i wrote a more extensive piece on it at http://www.squidoo.com/active-isolated-stretching--mattes-method so i guess you can check it out. i apologize if the link doesn't work or if i have been unclear in my explaination or if there are spelling errors(i'm a really shitty speller, and i'm afraid of captial letters). i hope this helps you. i'll try and get this posted on youtube or something, whenever i get around to it, but i wouldn't hold my breath, i haven't even finished my profile on this thing yet.

    cheers.





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    Dec 04, 2009 3:27 AM GMT
    After years of yoga, I would only add to the above advice:

    Mix up your stretches. Don't do the same stretches day after day.

    My fav after run hamstring stretch is to stand with a wall to my side and lift my leg, placing my foot on the wall and then bending sideways, resting my chest on the thigh of the leg propped on the wall. That really makes your hamstrings 'glow.'
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    Dec 04, 2009 3:43 AM GMT
    MSUBioNerd saidAlright, I've always been pathetically inflexible in my hamstrings. Most flexibility outside of the hamstrings I'm either normal or actually limber, but I can't touch my toes with my knees straight and my shoes off. The most flexible I've ever gotten in my hamstrings got me to the point of being able to put the last knuckle of my left hand over my left toenails when stretching just the left leg, or the tip of my right fingers to the tip of my right toes when stretching just the left leg. When seated and stretching both hamstring at once, I have never once in my life gotten my fingers to touch my shoeless toes.

    I know that the standard advice is to stretch daily, hold the stretch for 30-45 seconds, don't bounce, and it will come. Well, honestly, that doesn't work for me. In the past I've done hamstring stretches every day for 6 months and seen no improvement after the first week.

    The goal at the moment isn't the stunning flexibility of the people I see doing yoga and nonchalantly putting their palms flat on the floor. It's possible that I will never be able to achieve that, as there is underlying variation in the length of tendons. I just want to be able to touch my toes, or be able to hold one leg parallel to the floor while standing on the other; at the moment I can do so with my thigh but I can't bring my calf up to match.

    So, how do I change this?

    Should I use a towel to pull myself toward my feet? Should I bend at the waist holding weights with my arms bent, so that their weight helps pull my downward? Is it a bad idea to work on this daily, in that maybe I should give myself a longer recovery period? Should I focus on stretching other areas which will help me? Do I need to hold stretches for longer? Something else?

    Any advice from someone who has actually increased his flexibility would be greatly appreciated.


    Stiff legged dead lifts.
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    Dec 05, 2009 5:24 AM GMT
    This may be of interest:

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/25/phys-ed-how-necessary-is-stretching/?ref=magazine
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    Dec 07, 2009 4:25 AM GMT
    I too have tight hamstrings, and I've been doing for a year now, and yes I've gained some flexibility, but I've got ways to go.

    I'm envious of the guys and girls in my class who can bend like pretzels, but it's a matter of keeping at it. I'm further today, than I was yesterday.
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    Dec 08, 2009 9:50 PM GMT
    As far as hamstrings are concerned, I significantly improved the flexability and lengthened them by re-evaluating how I did the hamstring curl on the machine. (the one when you are face down).

    First, I lowered the weight stack a lot. Then I positioned the adjustable foot pad part furthest from your knees. (AS you probably know, your knees should be just off the main pad where your upper body is). When you are lowering the weight with your feet, it will almost feel like your feet will slip off, but it won't Do this slowly. Also, equally important at that point is to release the tension in your lower back/hips and allow the stretch to work into your butt and hamstrings When you do this, you will find your hamstrings stretching even more and you can lower the foot pad an added inch or two.

    So its the lowering part of the movement that helped me stretch the hamstrings. When you get good at this, teach yourself to let go of the handles or clasp your hands behind your back.

    As for the pulling part of the exercise towards your butt, gradually bring the foot pad to your butt and at the same time BREATHE into your lower backhips to help relax them.....flatten your lower stomach and hips against the cushion and relax your lower back so that the resistance is transferred to you butt and thighs. The butt should tighten, and the front thighs should feel a stretch.

    As with many resistance training exercises, in an effort to lift heavier weights, we often twist or tense other muscles that shouldn't be and take away the focus on the specific muscle we are working.
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    Dec 08, 2009 10:04 PM GMT
    PNF Stretching has been shown to increase flexibility almost instantly. Also, a great exercise to strengthen and stretch your hamstrings is the Romanian Deadlift. Although the romanian deadlift requires a lot of form to get right, is a great exercise to use if your hamstrings are weak...but definitely look up PNF stretching for your hamstrings....your flexibility will be improved almost instantly.