You stretch your hamstrings several times a day everyday, and they still feel as stiff as petrified wood. Before you stretch, understand that different types of stretching yield different results. Doing the right kind of stretching at the right time will loosen those muscles up, making you limber enough to touch your toes without too much hassle.
Walk into any gym and you'll most likely see some people doing various types of hamstring stretches, whether they're lying on their back with their leg up or touching their toes from a standing position. Static stretching is where you hold a stretch for a period of time, usually between 15 to 30 seconds. Exercise physiologist Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico recommends that you do static stretching after training, not before. It enhances relaxation and reduces tension in your legs, which is more ideal for a cool-down than a warm-up.
Dynamic stretching is moving multiple muscles and joints repeatedly and rhythmically within a path of motion. It increases neural stimulation to your muscles and raises your metabolism and body temperature, which better prepares you for training, says flexibility specialist Ann Frederick, coauthor of "Stretch to Win." Instead of holding a stretch from a supine position, flex and extend your knee repeatedly in a controlled manner while flexing your foot. You can also do body-weight squats, lunges, leg swings and kicks -- high and low -- to warm up your hamstrings and other leg muscles.
Having a stretching partner can help you release more tension in your hamstrings than by yourself. Assisted stretching comes in two main types, Dr. Kravitz says. One is the contract-relax method, where you initially contract the hamstring for a few seconds followed by relaxing the muscle. The partner stretches the muscle to its new range of motion once it has relaxed. The second variation of the contract-relax method is to contract your quadriceps instead. While you contract your quadriceps, you push gently against the force applied by the partner. When you relax your quads, your partner gently moves your leg to its new range of motion. Try both methods and see which works better for you.
Beyond Stretching and Hamstrings
Sometimes the tightness in your hamstrings has little to do with the muscles themselves. Since your hamstrings are linked to your hip joints, knees and lower back by connective tissues and nerves, stiffness in your hip joints can contribute to that stiff feeling in your hamstrings, says physical therapist Gray Cook. You can stretch and use the foam roller on your hamstrings to gain temporary mobility, but if you don't improve stability in your lower back or knees, then that tightness will say, "Hi" to you again the next day. Work with a qualified exercise professional to see what exercises work best for you to improve hamstring flexibility and full-body stability.
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- Stretch to Win; Ann Frederick, MS; Chris Frederick, PT
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