Monday, July 18, 2011

Exercise of the Month: Hamstring Stretch

Almost everyone I know, myself included, complains of tight hamstrings. It’s no surprise since we sit so much, spending hours with knees bent. To stretch, most people try to touch their toes, but that’s not the most effective way to lengthen the hamstrings. This group of muscles (the hamstrings are actually four muscles on the back of each thigh) requires careful attention to alignment to release the entire compartment.

Try this stretch and notice where you feel sensation. If you feel burning, back off. It doesn’t take much pressure to lengthen and align this muscle group.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
Keep equal weight in your left hip and right hip.
Bring the left knee into your chest and keep it in line with your left ear. Don’t let your knee fall to the outside or you’ll avoid stretching part of the hamstrings.
Wrap a yoga strap or belt around the left foot and hold the ends in both hands.

Stretch #1
1. Keep your knee in line (I know I’m repeating myself here, but it’s important.) and straighten the knee so your heel presses up to the ceiling.
2. Stop where you feel the first sensation. Hold the stretch and direct your breath into the back of your thigh.
3. See if you can find the amount of pressure that allows the muscle to relax. This is less than how much we usually put into a stretch.
4. Repeat on with the right leg. Then try the following variation to release different places in your thigh.

Stretch #2
1. Again keep your knee in line with your ear on the same side and keep your knee as close to your chest as you can.
2. Straighten your knee without moving it away from your chest. This usually gets deeper into the muscle compartment. Direct your breath to where you feel the stretch.
3. Repeat with the other leg.

By the way, the model for this exercise is my friend and fellow writer, Rebecca Ross of The Composed Domain.

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