Exercising is fantastic for your mind, body, and soul. It has proven to be beneficial in multiple areas of one’s health. However, many individuals who exercise regularly don’t realize that it is just as important to stretch. Stretching regularly can help you prevent various sport-related or workout-related injuries among many other great benefits. The best part of stretching it is free to do, you can stretch anywhere, and it only takes a few minutes each day to still get the maximum benefits.
What the Benefits of Stretching
There are many different important benefits of stretching that help not only the muscles and tendons but also the nerves, joints, and cardiovascular health. Some important benefits include:
- Decreased pain levels
- Improved nerve mobility
- Improve muscle extensibility
- More flexibility in the tendons
- Improved local blood flow
- Better posture
- Improves stress relief
What are the Hamstrings - Anatomy Review
The Hamstrings are any of the five tendons located on the back of an individual’s thigh that attach from the back of the hip to the back of the knee. The hamstring includes four significant muscles, which are the Biceps Femoris Long Head and Short Head, Semimembranosus, and Semitendinosus. These muscles are connected to the knees, pelvis, and lower leg bones through soft tissues called tendons.
The Hamstrings as a muscle group are responsible for extending your hips, flexing your knees, and aiding in controlling the rotation of your knees. They also help with activities such as walking, ascending/descending stairs, running, and squatting.
Why are the Hamstrings Important for Overall Health?
The hamstrings are crucial for your overall health because they are responsible for your knee and hip movements. They affect how an individual can bend their knees, walk, squat, and tilt their pelvis. Due to their large size and crossing multiple joints, they play a large role in joint health. Tight or injured hamstrings can have an effect on low back pain, hip pain, and knee pain. There are not many other muscles that influence multiple areas of the body.
They are also one of the body’s largest muscle groups. This is important for joint health, posture, and even metabolism. Muscles burn the most calories and due to the Hamstrings size are one of the most important calorie burners.
Why do our Hamstrings Tend to Be Tight?
There are a few different reasons that the Hamstring muscles might be tight. These include sitting too long, weakness in the core and low back, and a history of low back pain.
In our current modern-day lifestyles, we tend to sit more than our ancestors. In sitting, our knees are bent and our Hamstrings are kept in a shortened position. Over time this can lead to chronically shortened hamstrings.
Secondly, weakness in the core and low back muscles can lead to an Anterior Pelvic Tilt. In an Anterior Pelvic Tilt, the pelvis rolls forward causing pulling on the Hamstring muscles. This tightness is most prevalent during standing and with activity.
Finally, if there is a history of low back pain without proper care to fix it, this can also cause Hamstring tightness. The Hamstrings will try to help protect the low back after an injury. The only way they know how to protect the back is to tighten it down to provide stability. Without addressing the low back pain, the Hamstrings will continue to be tight for the protection of the spine.
Why do the Hamstring Cramp More Often?
Hamstrings tend to cramp more often than other muscles because they cross multiple joints, are a large group of muscles requiring more metabolites, and can be overused easily.
Since the Hamstrings cross the hips and knees there are times that they are asked to work at both joints at the same time. This increased nerve signal to work at different places at the same time can cause a muscle cramp by asking it to do too much.
Secondly, because the Hamstrings are such as large muscle group they require a large amount of nutrients to work properly. Muscles require a balance of Sodium and Potassium among other metabolites to work efficiently. If this balance is altered then it can cause muscle cramps.
Finally, the Hamstrings are great at compensating and aiding other muscle groups. If there is weakness in the body such as at the Glutes or core muscles then the Hamstrings will try and help. This never allows them to rest and the muscles are always turned “on.” There is good research that shows training and strengthening the Glute muscles can reduce Hamstring cramps during exercise.
5 Different Ways to Stretch the Hamstrings
Standing Hamstring Stretch
The Standing Hamstring stretch is a stretch done in a standing position.
First, use your right leg to step forward while your left knee remains straight. Lift your right toes up, so only your heels touch the floor. The left leg should be mildly bent at the knee.
Next, use your body to lean forward with your chest out. Stop when you can feel the stretch in your calf and hamstrings.
Your hands can go on top of your right thigh. Hold this position for 30 seconds or longer. After that, you can repeat the same exercise with your other leg forward.
Video Link: Standing Hamstring Stretch
PNF Contract/Relax Doorway Hamstring Stretch
First, you must lay on your back in an open doorway.
Next, straighten one leg out through the open doorway while sliding the other leg up the wall. Both knees should be straight, and you will feel a hamstring stretch in the leg that is up against the wall.
Try to hold this stretch for about 5 seconds and then relax 5 seconds. After each contract/relax cycle try and scoot yourself close to the doorframe. After 3 rounds switch legs and repeat the steps above for your other hamstring.
Video Link: PNF contract/relax Hamstring Stretch
Half-Kneeling Hamstring Strength
This stretch can be performed by using one leg to kneel towards the ground while extending the other in front of you.
First, you must place both hands along your hips and slowly begin to lean forward. Your head should face up during this time.
Your back and leg should be straight to maximize the hamstring stretch. You should hold this position for 10-15 seconds on each leg.
Video Link: Half Kneeling Hamstring Stretch
Prolonged Seated Hamstring on a Coffee Table
The prolonged seated hamstring stretch can be done using a coffee table.
You should sit down on one chair and place one leg up and place it in a chair in front of you to straighten out your knee.
If you have difficulty straightening your knee, you can hold a plastic bag full of soup cans using the weight to straighten the knee during the stretch.
Make sure you place the weight a little above your knee (not on the actual knee). You can repeat this step for both legs.
Video Link: Prolonged Hamstring Stretch on Coffee Table
Dynamic Hamstring Stretch
Several dynamic hamstring stretches can loosen the tightness in your hamstrings.
Start by standing tall and kicking the leg up in front of you. Start walking forward while alternating high kicks with each leg.
Another dynamic hamstring stretch is the standing roll down.
For this stretch, you must stand with both feet about hip-apart. You can let your arms dangle to the side.
Next, you should slowly roll your head down your body as much as you can without having to bend your knees.
After that, you can slowly roll back up to an upright position, one vertebra at a time.
Video Link: Dynamic Hamstring Stretch
Indeed, tight hamstrings can result in several problems, such as difficulty walking or bending. If you exercise regularly or play any sports, make sure you are prosperous stretching your hamstrings every time to avoid complications with mobility.
Picture credit: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/hamstring-muscle-injuries
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.