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Nick E

Questions about stretching hamstrings

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Hi all, 

I´m new to this forum so thank you for having me. I've come here because of what I believe are severely tight hamstrings. I say believe because there might be some other part of my anatomy that I'm missing. As I've read, perhaps the word "tight" isn't the most productive or accurate way of thinking of this part of my body, nor is thinking negatively about them. I do yoga nearly daily and have so for at least three years, but one thing that's always been my companion are my tight hamstrings and I honestly couldn't tell you if they've elongated or relaxed since I began yoga... nothing noticeable for me at least. Obviously it would affect my practice because of all the asanas/poses where tight hamstrings restrict you and I'm sure I compensate with a curving back and stiff shoulders. But besides yoga I would very much like to be able to sit on the ground comfortably with a straight upright spine. I cannot do this. Not with crossed legs or legs out in front. In yoga I use blocks and cushions to elevate my hips, as high as possible, but even with those my lumbar spine curves backwards and I strain to keep something of a straight back. To meditate I kneel because it is they only way I can have an upright spine. Seated posed especially dandasana (staff pose) or forward bends I am unable to do correctly and I'm sure I they might even cause me more strain for trying to hold a posture that I can´t. I would love to be able to do boat pose. Anatomically I have very long legs, arms and a short trunk. In any case I would love to sit comfortably on the floor, carry out a seated meditation and do many of the yoga asanas like dandasana or boat pose in a comfortably and enjoyable way. 

For the record I've been following Kit´s 2 videos, the "Bent Leg hamstring stretch" (2009) and a different version of the same stretch on the video "Stretch therapy methods..." (2013). I've been doing them for 2 months, but I don't know if I seen any change. I find that my legs stretch out further during these stretches and then after the backs of my legs are sore, so I don't know if I'm doing them too hard or not. I would very much like to know how often I should do these stretches and for how long I should hold them. My other question is regarding using the quadriceps to push or pull (depending on which video I follow) into the stretch... should I only go as far as my quad can push? Because it seems at some point the muscles relax a bit and my leg stretches further but not by force of the quads and I'm not sure if my hamstrings are being stretched or not. When I'm in the full extent of the stretch I definitely feel a strong sensation at the back of the leg and when I come out my hamstrings feel tender. So I would like to know if I'm doing them effectively or not.

I first came to Kit´s videos by way of antranik.org and his toe touching routine, antranik.org/toe-touching-routine/, which I've been following. But I don't know if this is the approach about going about hamstring flexibility you would take. 

So, I would very much appreciate any guidance that could help me feel a little more free in my body.

Thank you.

 

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Hi Nick,

Welcome to the forums! I edited the title of your post to be a better indicator of the content. I'm not sure if you meant to leave it as your name, but it's better to have a descriptive title so that people can find relevant posts more easily in the future.

Regarding your questions, a lot of them have to do with the basics of the system and stretching in general. Please start by browsing through some of the threads here. Perhaps begin with The secrets of stretching. While you are not using the "Master the..." programs, this is another great thread to check for advice about how to structure a practice. I think many of your concerns will be addressed by these threads, so please take a look and then come back with your thoughts. Finally, please feel free to make use of our Form check section. You will get much better feedback when people can see what you are actually doing during your stretches.

Again, welcome. We're glad to have you here!

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@Nick E: My first advice is not to stretch your hamstrings every day (I have to acknowledge that I have assumed that you do, from the comment you made about doing yoga most days) — and because in our system if you've made little progress in three years then you are not doing what your body actually need you to do. 

So my suggestion is to do only one or perhaps two sessions over a five–six day period using the bent leg hamstring stretches, but do three sets in any stretching session. Thinking on it, try once a week in the beginning – if you get deep into the hamstrings on any day, you will be sore for at least a week. This degree of stress is necessary to provoke the hamstrings to actually start to change. As well, our system is distinctly different to any form of yoga that I am familiar with because it uses strong contractions at the end of the range of movement. If these are done properly, they will make you stronger as well as more flexible, but these workouts must be recovered from. If you are still sore at the end of the week, then take more time off. Believe me, in this game, less is more if it is intense enough.

If you are not doing any strength training, I recommend strongly that you use barbells, or dumbbells, or kettle bells to do some kind of bent leg Romanian deadlifts, more or less to failure (in time) to fully warmup the hamstring group before you think about stretching them. It if you have long legs it may simply be that your hamstring muscles do not experience themselves as strong enough to feel like they can let go. This is very common among tall slender male yoga practitioners.

As well you can use the RollStretch method too, to find any trigger point or tension points in the hamstrings by doing that pose you referred to above (dandasana) but with a hard ball between your ischial tuberosity's and the knee, in various places along those lines. Fine which bits are really tight, and let the ball be pressed into those places by simply allowing yourself to relax over the ball. Bending the knee a bit is perfectly fine to get into position.

On your non-stretching days you can do any mobility type exercises you want, and the king of all of them is the elephant walk. Search on our YouTube channel and you'll find a couple of versions of it but notice that there are no contractions involved and there is only active relaxation and elongation of the muscles. Doing the elephant walk following a serious hamstring stretch workout will be a bit painful, it's true, and the goal is to recover some of yesterdays flexibility, and perhaps not the whole lot.

The last comment that I will make for today is that you need to find out what your body needs – and it will either be strength work or much more intense stretching work but done much less frequently than what any practitioner of yoga will ever suggest.

 

 

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Hi Kit,

Thank you for the thorough response. One detail, and you are about details in the bent leg hamstring stretch. When you initially contract the quads to push the knee back or push your leg forward (depending on the video) I find I can push my leg to a certain distance, but how far or to what sensation should someone push it? And then following that, after doing the two contractions with the heels, then relaxing and going into the final stretch I find there's a combination of pushing with my quad but also sliding... perhaps more sliding than pushing. Then, after some time in the final stretch I find my legs are stretching further apart, not by any force on my part, but perhaps gravity, the weight of my body over my outstretched leg and my knee (on the towel) sliding back over the floor. At this point I feel it in the back of the leg (hamstring) but I don't feel I pushed but rather the weight of my leg and the towel sliding over the smooth floor seem to allow me to stretch into a more stretched position. My question is, am I stretching my hamstring properly in this way? Also if entering the stretch wasn't by a notable contraction of my quad and if I'm feeling it in the back of the leg, is that the way I want to enter the stretch? And with regards to the sensations of stretch on the hamstring, do I want to feel those or should it be less noticeable and perhaps more notable in the contraction of the quadriceps?

Also in the full stretch, I'm surprised at how far my legs stretch out, considering how tight I am, so I wonder to myself if I'm doing it correctly or deceiving myself?

Thanks again,

Nick

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