07 Jan THE BEST HAMSTRING FLEXIBILITY EXERCISES
Before discussing hamstring flexibility we need to talk about testing hamstring flexibility. Many athletes believe their hamstring are tight but have all the hamstring flexibility the need to perform normal activities of daily living and sporting activities. Outside of people performing yoga, Pilates, gymnastics, cheer etc. if an athlete passes the following tests they do NOT need to work on hamstring flexibility.
To assess hamstring flexibility, the athleteshould lie supine with both legs straight. A coach or training partner should then raise one leg up, while maintaining full knee extension, until the athlete feels tension in the posterior thigh. Athletes with good flexibility should have an 80+ degree angle of their thigh at the stretching point.This athlete has an 80-90 degree angle of her thigh relative to the ground indicating good flexibility of the hamstring muscles. Note hand placement of the tester, maintaining the knee in full extension.
We also need to assess an individual’s ability to actually utilize their available hamstring flexibility in the hip hinge pattern. This pattern forms the basis of many of the movements performed by fitness athletes and the general population in daily tasks. To assess this, read THIS ARTICLE.
Okay, let’s get to my favorite exercises for improving hamstring flexibility!
Romanian Deadlift Eccentric Isometrics
Eccentric isometricshave long been one of my favorite ways to create mobility changes because eccentric muscle contractions (or slowly lowering during a lift) have been shown to create lengthening inside the muscle fibers themselves. Combining slow eccentrics (3-7 seconds) with a pause in the stretched position (2-5 seconds) makes for a great combination to improve mobility, movement control / technique, strength, and muscle hypertrophy.
With the hamstrings my go-to drill for improving mobility is almost always eccentric isometric RDLs.
PAILs/RAILs are a mobility technique involving a static stretch for a period of time followed by hard, intense isometric contractions at end range. When performing static stretches we get the nervous system to relax into new ranges of motion. The problem is, the body will easily revert back to its previous levels of stiffness. By performing these isometric contractions (that is a muscle contraction without moving) we can “hit save” on some of the mobility improvements we make. These work especially well with the hamstrings.
Reverse Active Straight Leg Raises
So many athletes with hamstring tightness actually lack the pelvis control to actively use their hamstring flexibility. Or as they improve their flexibility, they don’t then know how to use to and move through the hips rather than moving through the spine.
The reverse active straight leg raise combines hamstring flexibility work with the athlete having to control his/her pelvic positioning making it a great combo for a lot of athletes.
Band Pullover Straight Leg Raises
Similar to the reverse active leg raises, the band pullover straight leg raises are great to get athletes stabilizing their pelvis position prior to moving the hamstrings through range of motion.
Quite often, athletes will feel tension in the back of their thigh and immediately think they have tight hamstrings. BUT commonly, I find that mobilizing the sciatic nerve can have a greater effect than stretching the hamstrings. My friend Erson Religioso shares some great variations of nerve glides to improve sciatic nerve mobility.
Body tempering is a soft of soft tissue mobilization created by legendary powerlifter Donnie Thompson. It involves rolling heavy weighted cylinders on muscles and/or joints to create a nervous system effect where the muscle is able to move through more motion for a period of time. Body tempering works great on hamstrings and when we combine with some active movements like those shown above, we can see great, rapid results. Below I’m using the Forge Body Tempering Device.
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BODY TEMPERING can be a great tool in your mobility work when combined with active strength movements as I show here using @forgehdf . My typical formula for improving hamstring flexibility with body tempering is spending a few minutes rolling then following that up with some eccentric emphasized Romanian Deadlifts. The tempering gets some temporary improvement in motion then we build strength and control by loading the movement pattern (and helping to keep our flexibility gains)! . If you want to learn more about body tempering follow @bodytempering @thompsonbowtie @forgehdf @mrcoreblend