Friday, March 4, 2016


I sit all day at work in my office, and continue to sit through my 2+hrs daily of commuting. I don't spend much time on my butt at home (because I'm out training, or standing while I'm cooking, or out running errands or something), but I am nonetheless seated for several hours most days of the week.

I'm like the poster girl for tight hamstrings. If your life is anything like mine - more chair time than active time for most of the week - you probably are, too.

Well, not necessarily poster girl. I'm not here to prognosticate about your gender or preferred appellations. Nonetheless, I'm willing to bet you've got some tension in those hammies.

I know I've been posting a lot lately about mobility exercises and stretching, and I'll ask you to bear with me while I show you one more thing that really got my attention the first time I tried it. I'd always done the traditional hamstring stretch, which involves putting your foot up on something and then reaching toward your toes.

I'm actually flexible enough to wrap a hand around my foot, but crayon art is not a precise science.

It's a good stretch, and one I advocate doing in the correct circumstances. Being able to bend down and touch your toes (which is another way to accomplish the same stretch, if you don't have anything to put your foot up on or aren't strong or flexible enough to do so) is a good thing, but it doesn't do the whole job when it comes to hamstring mobility.

Something about my personal biomechanics results in tightness near the top of my hamstrings, where they attach to the tendons just below my butt. As a runner and cyclist, I also tend to put the greatest load on my hamstrings with my knees bent rather than straight, which results in some tension that isn't alleviated through the standard stretch shown above.

Some while ago - maybe a year or two, for all I know - I read an article online (which I would totally reference here if I could remember where I found it) that was entitled something like "the best hamstring stretch you're not doing". As a curious human interested in keeping my body moving as well as possible, I took a look and discovered it was right: I wasn't doing it, and the stretch is freakin' awesome. It hit the problem areas in my hamstrings perfectly, and was something I could easily do during my post-swim hot tub stretching sessions.

So, my dear friends, I give to you: The Best Hamstring Stretch You (probably) Aren't Doing.

Step 1: Put one foot up on a stair or a chair - something that forms a right-angle.

Step 2: Push your foot forward so your toes are against the upright portion of the right angle, with your ankle in a neutral dorsiflexed position.

Step 3: Lean forward, keeping your spine and neck in a neutral position. Don't round your back as this will put stress on it.

Step 4: Feel the stretch in your upper hamstrings and glutes. Hold this position for 15-20 seconds but do not bounce.

Step 5: Stand straight up again and have a go with the other leg.

Having trouble picturing all this? Here's a slightly-more-detailed-than-usual image to help you out.

Simple as that.

If you can't find something to put your foot up on to do this, you can generally achieve the same thing by bending one knee from a standing position and putting the opposite foot out in front of your with your heel dug into the ground and your toes in the air (dorsiflex your foot by pulling your toes back toward your shin). You can also put the ball of your foot up against a wall to brace it. Lean forward, keeping your spine neutral, and put your hands on the thigh of the bent leg you're standing on. It's more of a challenge to keep your back from rounding this way and I don't feel I get as good of a stretch since I'm not using as much range of motion in my hip, but beggars can't be choosers if there's really nothing around.

If you don't suffer from the same hamstring tightness I do, this may not have much effect. I'm not a doctor, don't play one on television, and have no clue about your personal physiology or limitations. If it feels really painful, DON'T DO IT. Void where prohibited by law - no cash value - your mileage may vary.

But worth a shot just to see if it helps, no?

Oh, and just on the off chance you think I might be mis-representing Lane Swim K in crayon form:

Truth is stranger than fiction, folks.

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