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Hamstring Stretches

by Ramel Rones, July 30, 2012

Because the hamstrings are the most stubborn muscles in our body, we need to constantly stretch them. If you think about it, the hamstrings are one of the muscles that do not have any strengthening exercises. The reason is that the function of the muscle puts them in a special category. They are constantly working and working hard. This is why you can find stretching exercises for hamstrings, but not much when it comes to strengthening. The hamstring is connected to the sitting bones at the top and to the back of the knee at the bottom. The hamstring’s job is to hold the whole trunk upright when standing and while sitting.

This task puts tremendous stress on the hamstrings and if not stretched properly, it also puts stress on the lower back as well as the knees. Another symptom that is a byproduct of tight hamstrings is pain from the sciatic nerves. When your lower back and your hamstrings reach a certain tight point, the fiber puts pressure on the sciatic nerves. It is often painful and debilitating.

It is very important to stretch the hamstrings so I am including several ways to stretch them. In this way, you can include stretching into your life and you will have different options to achieve the goal of keeping the hamstring flexible at all times. One leg up is one way to stretch the hamstrings. Another is Vitamin H, an exercise from the Sunrise Tai Chi book. For this stretch, tilt the pelvis upward. Breathe deeply, with long, calm, quiet, peaceful inhalation. Bend at the waist, until you feel an even stretch through your hamstrings and calf muscles. Another way is by putting one of your legs up on the wall while the other is straight on the floor.

Having the hamstrings flexible at all times is a martial arts concept. After all, the hamstrings are the muscles that help perform kicks. Imagine a martial artist stumbling into a fight and telling his or her opponent that today is not a good day for him to fight because his hamstrings are too tight. No, that is not even an option. As a martial artist, my leg should always be able to touch my opponent’s face, but that takes constant stretching of my legs, not my face.

The variety of the stretches will give you the opportunity to incorporate hamstring stretches into your life. When you are outside waiting for the trolley, subway, or the bus, you can put your leg up on a fence, a bench, or a wall. You can bend over when in the shower, or when waking up or after work you can lie on your back and stretch more passively.

The bottom line is you need to stretch the hamstrings a few times a day and not for short one minute stretches. Stretch for three to four minutes at a time. If you do reach a stage of having flexible and strong hamstrings, you will enjoy higher performance in your legs as well as have a sense of lightness and speed. But most importantly, you will prevent injuries in two major areas: the lower back and your knees. By preventing injury, you will save yourself pain and agony while having an excellent quality of physical functioning no matter what your age.

Hamstring Stretch–One Leg Up

Stand with your feet straight and take a few breaths. Place one leg straight forward onto a chair, or any other surface, that is the right height for you. Breathe deeply, with long, calm, quiet, peaceful inhalations. Some days, hold onto the wall or another chair to eliminate any issues with balance that can inhibit your ability to relax and stretch properly. On other days, perform the stretch without support to experience performing the stretch while challenging your balance.

To create a good stretch in the calf, you will need to flex the ankle of the leg that is up. The toes move toward you while the heel pushes out and away. Allow your hamstrings and calf muscles to stretch gradually over two to three minutes.

The leg muscles of the standing leg should be active. Raise up the kneecaps with your thigh muscles while pushing gently against the floor with your heels. Do not lock the knees. The spine should be relaxed. Distribute your weight between the ball of the foot and the heel and make sure the inner arch of the standing leg is not collapsed. The toes of the standing leg should eventually face forward, but to control the 80 percent effort in this stretch, you may find that by angling the toes slightly to the outside you can lift your leg higher as well as control the stretch through the standing leg’s quads.

Yes, some individuals feel the stretch in more than one place. To be able to do the stretch with the toes of the standing leg facing forward will demand more stretching if you are tight. It is important in all your stretches to take your time and gradually work toward the final posture.

Stretching the Pelvis

The next area that often needs work to do this stretch properly is the pelvis. In order to lift the leg up, the body will compensate by tilting the pelvis. This tilt of the pelvis is not correct alignment.

This tilt of the pelvis occurs more in the martial art world where the goal is to kick someone and it does not matter if the hip is tilted or not. In fact, by tilting the hip, you can generate more power to your kick. Because we are not kicking anyone, we need to have correct alignment. You may find that by lowering the height of the stretched leg, you will be able to drop through the hip of the leg that is up and lift through the hip of the standing leg. This movement through the hip will align the pelvis. When looking from the back, you should see a straight line through the pelvis and sitting bones.

Many individuals, when performing this stretch, bend down with their spine to reach the toes of the leg that is up. Doing so increases the sensation in the hamstring of the leg that is up, but again you are breaking alignment in your spine, your lungs are collapsed, and the rest of your internal organs are compressed.

Straighten your spine, drop your shoulders, suspend the head, and relax your face.
Next, you would want to start rotating toward the leg that is up. Rotate your trunk to the left if your left leg is up. Keep the hip evenly open as well as the standing leg’s toes facing forward. Over time, when your leg can reach higher to about solar plexus height, you will be able to touch the toes of the leg that is up without collapsing the trunk but while actually lengthening through the spine while reaching your toes with your palm.

Once your leg is up around the solar plexus height, if the left leg is up, reach with the left hand and touch the toes of your left foot. Perform the stretch for 2 to 3 minutes. After a few weeks, try reaching your toes with the opposite palm/arm.

Once you are done stretching the left leg, switch legs and now lift the right leg and place it onto a chair or any other surface. Flex through the right ankle to stretch the calf. Raise the kneecap of the left leg while pushing down into the floor with the sole of your foot, and then lengthen the spine and drop the right sitting bones while lifting through the left hip joint. As you become more flexible, you will be able to close your eyes as well as to put your leg higher and higher while keeping correct alignment.

When stretching, remember to use your mind to sense deeper and deeper into the layers of soft tissue. Also, use the setting sun to cleanse the entire physical as well as energetic body. Allow the setting sun to caress your face and dissolve any tension or stress. This skill will improve over time.

Hamstring Stretch–While Sitting on a Chair

This stretch can be done using two chairs on days you cannot stand or when you do not feel like standing. Sit on the edge of one chair and place your left leg onto the other. Use a belt to pull on the ball of the foot of the left leg. Keep your spine and trunk relaxed and open.

When you do not feel the stretch any more, lift the leg higher, maybe onto a table or the back part of the chair. At this point, you are not going to need the belt unless you are very tight in the lower back, in which case you should not lift your leg to a higher height.

Ramel Rones is a senior disciple of renowned teacher & author Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, and a Gold medalist in Internal and External Martial Arts: Three-Time Gold Medalist in Shanghai China, for Tai Chi, External & Internal Weapons (Grand National Championship 1994) & Gold Medalist for Tai Chi & Kung Fu Sword, 1994. From 1991-1993, Ramel earned Gold Medals for Tai Chi, Pushing Hands and Tai Chi Sword in the International North American Chinese Martial Arts Competition.


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