straighten up by stretching your hamstrings
This week’s inspiration was a client question during one of my group Pilates classes.
“Why does my back ache when my hamstrings are tight?”
It will come to you as no surprises that tight hamstrings (along with their friends, the hip flexors and glut group) are often left tense and tight due to two things:
- poor posture
- being too sedentary
- not adding stretching to your daily routine
These tensed up muscles can then lead to a forward rotation of the pelvis and compression of the lower or lumbar back. Ouch.
I’ve talked about posture being a pet peeve of mine before, so won’t bore you with the same off message again. OK, well just a tiny bit: if you continue with that poor slumped saggy posture, you’re gonna be in pain! Stand tall, tone your lower abdominals and keep those shoulders back!
Many of us work at desks, whether in an office, coworking space or at home. The hours fly by and suddenly you realise you haven’t moved or looked away from your screen for a couple of hours. First – blink and refresh your eyes. Second – get rehydrated with some water. Third – move about: pop over to a colleague instead of sending an email, walk a lap around the block, trot up and down the stairs. Being seated for long periods reduced muscle length in our legs, hips and butts.
Last off, stretching isn’t considered sexy by most folks. I want you to reclaim your physical wellbeing – yes, do that important cardio workout and build up some muscle strength but OMG don’t forget to stretch. This conditions your muscles to regain their full length after the other two bits of your workout.
So now is the time to ditch your excuses for not stretching. I’m not buying it and to ensure you’re getting the most out of your minimal stretch routine, here’s 4 quick, multipurpose stretches for you to do.
Do these stretches anywhere – no need for equipment, tonnes of space or a mirror:
Hello hip flexor standing stretch
Imagine your feet are either side of a 10cm wide plank. Slide your left foot back “along” the plank and shifting your butt back as go. Bend your right knee into a mini lunge – ensure your knee is NOT bent more than 90 degrees or over your toes. Rotate your pelvis backwards (ie tuck your tailbone under and draw your belly button backwards). Wowzers – hello hip flexors! Hold for ten, release and repeat on the same side. Switch over and repeat on the right.
Gluts and Ham combo
Sitting on a chair/bench/box/step, place your left foot on the floor with your knee bent at about 90 degrees. Cross your right leg over to bring your right ankle to rest on your left thigh, just about the left knee. Place your right hand on your right knee and lean forward. You can a little pressure through your right hand to increase the stretch to increase the glut stretch in your right bum cheek. Release, repeat and then replace right foot to the floor with your leg straight out in front of you. Lean forward again and turn your right toes up towards the sky. Hold, release and repeat on this side. Switch sides and bring the left ankle across the right knee and repeat this sequence.
Pigeon hip openers
This yoga move is often used in Pilates classes as the counter pose or stretch to glut strength work. It releases the hips and the outer thigh (including those run induced tight IT bands!). The best layered variations of this are here.
Knee kiss chase
Sitting on the floor (or potentially a small block if super tight) with your right leg straight out, bend your left leg so that the arch of your left foot is around your right knee and your left knee is in butterfly position. Walk your hands forward along the floor, lowering your body towards your right leg – aim to “kiss” your kneecap. Pause and wait for your hamstrings to relax. Lean into the stretch to increase it again. Rotate your shoulder and rib cage to look out to your left side. Bring your left arm over the top of your head and reach forward beyond your right toes. Keep pushing forward with your left hand and rotate back down to your knee. You should find yourself a little closer to your right knee. Hold, roll back up to sitting and repeat. Switch leg positions and repeat with your left leg straight out in front. Mwoah!
Do these regularly and you’ll soon have longer hamstrings, released hip flexors and relaxed gluts. Importantly, you’ll have ditched one of the causes of backache. Yay!!
Give these a try and let me know how you go – want more stretches, got another problem area or need a specific variation because you’ve got a dodgy disc or are pregnant? No worries, drop me a line and I can help you out on skype. Or if you’re in London, why not book in for a full postural assessment at Physio in the City?