Do you feel like you have “tight” hamstrings no matter how much you stretch? You’re not alone.
Many assume that the solution to is to stretch, stretch, and stretch some more. Modern movement science has shown us that this method is not only frustrating, but actually disadvantageous.
I have gotten away from aggressively stretching the hamstrings in both my personal practice and in my teaching.The more knowledge I’ve gained about biomechanics (the study of how the skeletal and musculature systems work under different conditions) the more I appreciate the importance of assessing the body as a whole.
When we talk about tight hamstrings we must also take a look at what’s happening in the pelvis. Why? The position of the pelvis plays and important role in the mobility of the hamstrings. An immobile pelvis gives the illusion of tight hamstrings. I personally believe it’s also the reason why so many people struggle to touch their toes when folding forward.
The hamstrings start at the bottom of the pelvis at a place called the ischial tuberosity, a fancy term for the sits bones, cross at the knee joint and end at the lower leg. Contrary to popular belief, they cannot physically lengthen from stretching. You would have to surgically rearrange the origin and insertion points. If the pelvis excessively tips forward, it pulls on the hamstrings and subsequently limits their mobility. If the pelvis tips too far under, it creates a “flat back” in the lumbar spine. Most people live in this position and it results in muscular imbalances in the back of the legs, or “tight” hamstrings.
The pelvis also acts as the base of the spine. It impacts it’s position when we move. In yoga you’re encouraged to keep the spine “long.” To do so we must learn how to hinge at the hips. If the pelvis doesn’t move the spine will compensate and round, creating unwanted discomfort in the back. If we want to practice a forward fold, for example, the pelvis must tip forward over the femur (thigh bone) in order to maintain the integrity of the spine.
I hope you are beginning to see how the pelvis relates to the entire kinetic chain and overall movement in the body. Understanding this principle is key to performing all sorts of tasks like sitting, standing, and walking. Pelvic mobility is necessary if you want to fold forward without feeling like the tin man. It also translates to better form in squats and deadlifts, running or cycling. In other words, if you want to function like a living, breathing human being, it’s time to unlock your pelvis.
How do you do that? Good question. For starters, stop over stretching. Stretching provides temporary relief, but does nothing to support long lasting tissue change. This means your body won’t understand it’s supposed to keep that range even after you’re done stretching. Instead, start with understanding your current movement patterns. How do you regularly sit or stand? Can your pelvis freely move or do you experience limitations? You may be surprised how pelvic awareness will change your posture and ability to hinge forward.
I’ve created a course on this very topic. It’s short and sweet, and you can click here to preview. I believe foundational movements practiced efficiently can be life changing. It’s not about the shape you’re making but rather how you move through them.