The Correct Way to Stretch Your Hamstrings
Updated March 2016
Tight hamstrings are directly linked to lower back pain. They reduce your pelvic mobility and prevent the pelvis from tilting together with the lumbar spine. Unfortunately, the more popular recommended stretches to address this problem actually worsens it. Pain and discomfort is experience significantly prior to hamstring lengthening or pain relief.
The stretch technique that it popular requires one to begin in the upright position and to lean forward to touch their toes with little attention to control. Another popular variation of this, is while in the seated position, and with one leg extended. Here, you also lead forward while touching your toes.
The first method uses gravity to aid the stretch. The latter uses your arms to achieve the same effect. Both place unnecessary force on the discs and lower back muscles and actually have minimal impact on hamstring length as lower back fatigue predominates the length of time the stretch is performed.
Ultimately, pain follows and the person performing the stretch avoids the technique altogether. This creates a vicious cycle where lower back pain is worsened by tight hamstrings and the stretch ineffectively compounds the problem.
Flaws in the Technique
This common stretch recommended encourages one begin with the hamstrings already in a lengthened position and uses the action of the pelvis to further lengthen them. By tilting the pelvis, one can lengthen the hamstrings. Provided that your back is stable and there are no disc issues, this stretch is considered safe.
However, hamstrings require a significant amount of force and sustained tension to lengthen. It is from the leverage of the spine acting on the pelvis that is required for this lengthening to occur. By its very design, this technique will require unbalanced force to be placed on the lumbar disc.
The average person with tight hamstrings may not have lower back pain, but is very prone to advancing towards it by using this stretch technique routinely. Because this stretch requires that pressure is put directly on every lumbar disc, the risk of injury to the spine is significant and very likely.
Stability before Action
While your hamstrings are one of the most resistant parts of stretching the lower back is consequently the least resistant. To prevent injury, it is necessary to provide a stable position for the spine prior to the stretch while having the most effective movement to stretch your hamstrings. An effective method should also provide stability to the pelvis to prevent any discomfort for the lumbar discs. Both concerns can be achieve through the following stretch.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
By following this technique, you allow the following protective actions in a specific order.
- Lumbar Stability
- Pelvic Stability
- Upper Back and Neck Stability
- Femoral Flexibility
- Hamstring Isolation
- Hamstring Lengthening