Hammies!

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You guys “inspired” me on Tuesday morning at 6:55am….. to write about importance of hamstring length…..

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I admit that it was already on the brain though. This month I have been revisiting a personal mission to loosen up my hamstrings. They have always been tight. Back in elementary school when we did the fitness testing day, I was really good at running fast around the block, but then proceeded not to be able to even reach the wooden board for the “seated forward reach test”. My negligence to this area in the past never really turned out well. Tight hamstrings and calves played a big roll in me developing shin splints and various other overuse running related injuries. A very strong commitment to yoga helped see me through a lot of my running injuries, but even when I started CrossFit I still couldn’t touch my toes or squat below parallel. No doubt about it, the range of motion in CrossFit has taken me a long way (I can now easily touch my toes). But even though I can get myself into most of the CrossFit movements quite comfortably now, my hamstrings are still tight and they are still having an effect on the ease at which I move.

Last month I wrote about the glutes and how they can affect the health of the low back. The hamstrings are also part of this continuum. The top part of the hamstrings attach into each of the ischial tuberosities (sit bones) which are at the bottom of the pelvis. When the hamstrings are tight they limit the ability of the pelvis to tilt forward which is a critical component of the squat. If you are at the bottom of a squat and your hamstrings are tight, the range is being made up for with movement in the low back (increased lumbar flexion- the movement that discs don’t love). This requires the paraspinal muscles (bulk in the low back) to stabilize beyond what they should normally be required to do.

If every time your hamstrings attempt to lengthen, your pelvis rolls back (flattening the lumbar curve), imagine what this would look like in a wallball, a deadlift or a heavy backsquat.

Now imagine how those movements would look and feel with normal length hamstrings. The lumbar curve can remain neutral. In addition to that, healthy mobile tissues have a much greater capacity to fire than tight muscles with adhesions.

The hard truth:

1. The longer they have been tight, the more work you are going to have to put in to making them loose.
2. It does take effort to stretch and mobilize your hamstrings, but so does staying fit and not eating crap.
3. Some of us are just built tight. It doesn’t mean we can use it as an excuse though. It means we have to work twice as hard to keep the system moving well. There are both short term and long term implications of not doing so.
4. Your efforts will reward you, as per usual.
5. As the smart Kelly Starrett (physio/CrossFit gym owner) says: It’s no use bragging about being a Ferrari if you are driving around with bald tires and the e-brake on.

Here are your options:

1. Yin yoga. Put in a request with your instructor to target the hammies.
2. Stretch. The more often the better. Use heat before stretching when possible. Lying with your bum against the wall and feet up the wall (make sure your bum actually is on the ground, if not back up a bit) works well, as does the one-legged rubber band stretch (ask us if you haven’t seen it).
3. Massage. Those of you who have had your hamstrings treated know how fun it is.
4. Roll out on the foam roller, use the massage stick thingy or roll around on one of the balls.
5. Do a partnered contract-relax stretch. If you don’t know how to do this, ask myself or Jesse.

No matter which of these options you choose, make sure you are breathing and be patient. If you don’t feel any release there probably hasn’t been much of any… yet. It can be uncomfortable in the early stages of dealing with adhesions in muscles (this is often why people don’t bother)… breathing will help your body to relax (this is also part of why we don’t breath part way through our lifts right?).

If you want me to do a quick assessment of your hamstring length as it pertains to your back positioning let me know before or after class.

Heather

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