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Before You Stretch Your Hamstrings, Try This First

Posted Jul 21 2009 10:10pm

People who have back pain or people who have had back pain and recovered with insufficient training, will have tight (inflexible) hamstring muscles. You can bet on it. The muscles may actually feel tight as well. Novice practitioners labor under the illusion that the tightness must be corrected in order for the pain to resolve. I know. I thought that for quite a while and stretched a lot of hamstrings only to end up with a client still in the hurt locker.

The problem isn't the hamstrings. The problem is the muscular sub-system of the spine that controls accessory movements (sometimes referred to as the stabilizer muscles). Your body has more sense than you do. If you don't tend to the reconditioning of these muscles, which by the way do not come back to normal strength on their own after an injury or surgery, your nervous system ramps up the tension in the surrounding muscles that can then indirectly influence your spine - like your hamstrings.

The result is tight hamstrings. You can stretch all you want. It won't change a thing. Sure, you'll gain some motion but within a day or so, you'll be right back to Tin Man land.

Instead of stretching, I suggest two drills to start with to begin the reconditioning process of the muscular sub-system. Those drills are:

  1. Bird Dog
  2. Plank

You can see a video of the Bird Dog here and an image of the plank is below. 01plank

For the Bird Dog, you should hold the end position for a slow count to 5 and increase the number of repetitions to increase your endurance. These muscles are not "strength" muscles in the traditional sense. Their job is to hold your spine in place for long periods of time. They need endurance training. Aim for 10 repetitions.

The Plank is also an endurance exercise. Try holding the position for 30 seconds and increase the hold 5 seconds each time you perform it. Do three sets. Your big goal on this drill is three minutes for one set.

After about a month of this training, your hamstrings will be more flexible; feel less tight. If you still lack adequate flexibility, you can then begin a stretching regimen.

And just in case you're wondering, I'm not making this up even though I do, from time to time, have some unusual ideas :-)


Kuszewski, M., R. Gnat, et al. (2009). "Stability training of the lumbo-pelvo-hip complex influence stiffness of the hamstrings: a preliminary study." Scand J Med Sci Sports 19(2): 260-6.

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