Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hamstring Stretching Techniques

When it comes to physical training, flexibility is an important but often overlooked component. Failure to maintain muscle balance by stretching tight, overworked muscles can compromise joint stability and lead to injury. The muscles of the hamstrings are especially important because they cross over both the hip and knee joints and have a significant influence on spinal alignment. While some hamstring stretching techniques are slightly more effective than others, any method will yield results when done correctly.
Physiology of Stretching
Tight hamstring muscles are common in both physically active and sedentary individuals. Tight hamstrings can cause the pelvis to tilt backward, compromising spinal alignment and causing poor posture and back pain. For individuals with extremely tight hamstrings, stretching can be intensely uncomfortable, which is why many avoid it. When a muscle is stretched to an uncomfortable length, the muscle spindles in the cells send a warning message to the brain that damage to muscle tissue is imminent, invoking a stretch reflex that causes the muscle to contract to protect itself. However, when the stretch is held without force for several seconds, the golgi tendon organ overrides the stretch reflex, allowing muscle fibers to elongate.
Active Static and Dynamic Stretching
Active static stretching involves positioning your body with the hips flexed and the knees extended, putting the hamstring muscle at its longest resting length, then slowly shortening the distance between the trunk and the knee until tension is felt. Hold the stretch statically at its longest length for several seconds. Active dynamic stretching trains the muscle to elongate while in motion, and is effective for many sports. Active dynamic stretching of the hamstrings is done from a standing position. Placing your hand on a wall for balance, stand with your supporting knee slightly bent and begin to swing your free leg like a pendulum, gradually increasing your range of motion. Do 10 to 15 repetitions on each leg. Doing dynamic stretches first thing in the morning will set the muscle spindle length for the rest of the day.
Passive Stretching
Passive stretching incorporates a partner or devise to help you stretch. A highly effective passive technique used in sports and rehab is proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. With a partner facing you in a kneeling position, lie on your back with one leg straight and the other flexed at the hip. Place your ankle on the shoulder of your partner. At her cue, contract your hamstring muscles, pushing against your partner for 10 seconds, then completely relaxing as your partner increases your muscle length. Repeat five to 10 times. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that passive stretching with the help of a partner yielded the most improvement in range of motion regardless of age or physical condition of the subjects tested.
Considerations for Effective Stretching
To increase range of motion without damaging muscle tissue, stretch after the muscles have been warmed up. Five to 10 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio will increase blood circulation to the muscle cells and increase core muscle temperature. During active stretching, visualize your muscle fibers elongating as you relax into your stretch. Breathe deeply, exhaling as you slowly bring the muscle to its longest length. Hold your stretch at the longest length for 30 to 60 seconds.