In previous posts we have talked about what it means to have a retraction in the hamstrings and the importance it has for the back. In another post we emphasized how we could measure the shortening of the hamstrings so that each one could get a rough idea of their own situation. The solution to this retraction is the stretching of the hamstrings but you must know that poorly done can be harmful.
Symmetrical hamstring stretching
I’m going to talk first about what you do not have to do so that we’ll understand the correct way to work them. A typical gesture for the stretching of the ischium is, standing or lying down, lean forward to touch our feet with our hands. We can see it in these two photos. It’s what we call a symmetrical stretch because we stretch both at the same time. This gesture can be detrimental to the back. When we stretch both hamstrings at the same time what we are doing is also stretching the lumbar area. Someone with acceptable elasticity and a healthy back may not be a problem but it is not the ideal way to do it.
Hamstring Stretch Hamstring Stretch
The hamstrings are powerful muscles and even more so if we think we are stretching both legs at the same time. The basal tone of these muscles opposes much more resistance than the lumbar extensor musculature. So that we understand: We lean forward starting the stretch that we see in the photos. At this time we are flexing the lumbar spine and the stretching of the lumbar extensor muscles begins. If we continue to bring the arms towards the feet, the lumbar area pulls the pelvis flexing the hip joints (the inguinal area). Finally, the pelvis pulls the hamstrings performing the desired stretching.
The hamstrings stretch, but we are pulling the lumbar area and we can damage it. To get a proper hamstring stretch with this gesture, we have to put excessive strain on the lower back. That is why I strongly advise against it. If we have an injury we may notice a worsening rather than the improvement we work for. If we suffer from spondylolisthesis this stretch I advise you even more because of the risk that it entails.
Asymmetrical Hamstring Stretch
So far I want to make it clear that we have talked about how NOT to stretch the ischium. The correct way is to perform an asymmetrical stretching of hamstrings. The way to not force the lower back is based on holding the pelvis so you do not have to pull it with the lower back. What better way to hold the pelvis than leaving one leg behind while climbing the other. If you look at the photos we can see how one leg rises straight and the other is left behind. When we are stretching the ischia in this way, the pelvis is not dragged by the hamstrings because the other leg does not leave it (having lagged behind). This does not transmit tension to the lower back.
There are many ways to do an asymmetrical stretching of the hamstrings and there is an ideal shape. You can perform the standing exercise, as we see in the initial photo of the post where you are raising a leg on a surface. You can perform lying on your back and pull with the arms of the leg using a towel that is anchored to the foot. We can sit on a bench with one leg stretched on top and dropping down the other side down and back with our foot on the floor.
Hamstring Stretch The ideal method to perform this stretching is to lie on our back and ask another person to take us from the heel and perform the stretch for us. In the photo we can see what I mean. On the one hand, we are performing a stretching of the hamstrings isolated without forcing other areas of the body and, on the other hand, the effort is made by our partner and we can relax better. This is the best way for sure but we need a volunteer to help us.