Improving your Hamstring Flexibility
December 28, 2010
Have you ever complained that your hamstrings always feel tight? No matter how much you stretch your hamstrings, they never seem to become more flexible?
Flexibility is a key factor in allowing you to get into the best body position at the catch, and in achieving a long, strong, and powerful rowing stroke. Tight hamstrings limit your ability to achieve this ideal body position. Static and dynamic stretching are two effective methods used to improve your flexibility. Long term changes to flexibility require consistent effort. The hamstrings are no exception.
Static stretching has long been used as a way to increase flexibility in muscles, and improve range of motion in joints. This type of stretching is done without movement (i.e. you remain still). The force or pressure is applied to the area being stretched by an outside force, such as a wall, strap or another person.
Studies have shown that the biggest improvements in ranges of motion occur when the end range stretch position is held for longer periods of time (10+ seconds, or longer). The stretch position should be repeated multiple times (5-10) for greater results. For athletes looking to actually get a permanent change in their flexibility, consistency becomes a key factor. Stretching should be done every day, and if possible, several times a day for even greater results.
Recent studies also confirm that static stretching does reduce your explosive strength immediately following the stretching period (up to an hour or so). Therefore this method is best used after training sessions, not before. A simple, yet effective, method of statically stretching hamstrings involves using a door frame.
Simply lie on your back next to doorway with your feet facing the opening. Slide the non-stretching leg through the doorway, then place the stretch side foot up onto the molding. Extend the knee joint of the leg being stretched so it becomes straight. You will probably need to adjust the distance of your hips from the wall to get the proper stretch tension. Ensure your tail bone does not come off the floor once you are in the appropriate stretch position.
Another approach to stretching is dynamic. Dynamic stretching is an active method where you provide the energy (i.e. you move) to produce the desired stretch. Ensure, however, that you do not exceed your normal end range for the movement otherwise it becomes a ballistic stretch. Dynamic stretches usually mimic the same sporting form that you are about to perform.
To produce a good hamstring stretch, simply do a quick body-over pause (1-2 second hold), whether you are on the water or on an erg. Keep your low back in a firm upright position with the spine as straight as possible. Slumping at the low back eliminates much of the stretch on the hamstrings, so be aware of your posture.
You should feel a good stretch in the back of the knees (bottom of the hamstrings) when you are in the body over pause position. If you do not you either have very good hamstring mobility or you are slumping in your low back. The point of dynamic stretching is to warm-up your body before training and racing; not to force your range of motion beyond your natural limits. Practice this form of stretching on a regular basis before adding it to your regular pre-race warm-up routine.
Dynamic stretching is ideal for warming-up muscles and joints prior to training sessions and racing. Its purpose is to prepare the tissue to properly handle the stresses of the activity. Static stretching, on the other hand, is ideal for making permanent changes (i.e. increasing) range of motion, and is best done separate from training and racing sessions.
With proper technique, combining both static and dynamic stretches into your training program is an effective way to prepare for training properly, to reduce your risk of injury, and to improve your baseline flexibility.
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