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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Stop Stretching Your Hamstrings

Brent Brookbush

Brent Brookbush


Panel Discussion: Stop Stretching Your Hamstrings

Unfortunately, flexibility is far more complicated than - "this feels tight so I'll stretch.” A muscle can be pulled long and feel tight - like a guitar string. In the case of your hamstrings, your hip flexors and low back are pulling your hamstrings long. Try a child's pose, kneeling hip flexor, and calve stretch. I am willing to bet your hamstrings will feel better.

Moderated by Brent Brookbush DPT, PT, MS, PES, CES, CSCS, ACSM H/FS

This Panel Discussion was originally posted on my facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/brent.brookbush - on May 23rd, 2010

Brent Brookbush, May 23, 2010 at 2:07pm: A note to personal trainers: Think of tight hamstrings as a symptom of Lumbo-pelvic-hip dysfunction, not a cause of dysfunction. Often correcting an anterior pelvic tilt will reduce hamstring tonicity and a few single leg touchdowns will return the hamstrings to optimal length.

Steven Summersill, May 23, 2010 at 3:01pm: Thanks Brent… You know I'm famous for that problem… But I still do my hamstring curls… :)

Brent Brookbush, May 24, 2010 at 1:18am: Well, we all have our imperfections :-)

Igor Daysudov, May 24, 2010 at 2:33am: A follow up here: Does activating a skeletal muscle (such as hamstrings or biceps brachii) actually stretch it? I thought that you have to actually have to stretch it to achieve that effect.. and after a work-out it's always a good idea to stretch/ do warm downs, but stretching in itself is a separate activity.

Brent Brookbush, May 24, 2010 at 9:14am: It's not that activating a muscle stretches it, as much as, activating a long muscle will improve its length/tension relationship - leading to better flexibility overall. This leads to a bigger question - What is the goal of a flexibility program? We should be trying to improve muscular balance by stretching short/tight muscles. Stretching muscles that are not tight is either a waste of time, or worse, could lead to hyper-mobility.

Matt Schoeneberger, May 24, 2010 at 10:39am: Brent, do you recommend a simple test for people to be able to tell whether their hamstring tightness is a symptom of an anterior pelvic tilt or if it's the real deal and needs stretching? Is there one?

Brent Brookbush, May 24, 2010 at 10:47am: An anterior pelvic tilt puts the hamstrings on stretch… A posterior pelvic tilt would be a sign of hamstring adaptive shortening. Things can get a bit more complex when hip rotation and lower leg mechanics are considered, but generally speaking - APT equals Long Hamstrings

Matt Schoeneberger, May 24, 2010 at 10:51am: So if I put myself into a posterior pelvic tilt and still have limited ROM and feel tightness in my hamstrings, should I be stretching them?

BTW, these are questions I've gotten from clients (modified to include some more efficient terminology) and I want to hear other pro's responses. Thanks!

Brent Brookbush, May 24, 2010 at 11:42am: I would still say no to stretching the hamstrings… If you have an APT, the cause of your hamstring restriction is not mechanical, its neural… To reduce hyperactivity and dominance of your longitudinal subsystem you need to correct LPHC dysfunction… and then if you would like, you can to do some active biceps femoris stretches to "reset" muscle spindle sensitivity

This Panel Discussion was originally posted on my facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/brent.brookbush - on January 29th, 2012

NEW Panel Discussion: Stop Stretching Your Hamstrings!!! Why won't anyone believe me, your hamstrings are not short/tight?

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 9:39am: Feel free to share this link. The more professionals we have discussing this issue; the more minds we have creating solutions.

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 10:48am: I haven't reached that yet in MMT but it's totally suggested hamstrings can be tight. it's the question of can you function or not.

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 11:00am: Great point about MMT (Manual Muscle Testing)… Remember that manual muscle testing assesses muscle strength in isolation and does not consider the system. In an Anterior Pelvic Tilt are the hamstrings pulled long or short? If they are long they will test weak, as well as, if they are short they will test weak - so manual muscle testing can only reinforce, but does a poor job of assessing the cause of dysfunction.

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 11:02: I’m thinking…

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 11:05am: Suggesting a muscle shortness is one thing, but if MMT suggests shortness and there is s functional problem during the swing phase of gait, maybe stretching isn't such a bad thing? (On a personal level, stretching feels good.)

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 11:31am: Good questions, but let's try to get to the bottom of this… #1 MMT (Manual Muscle Testing) does not test muscle length, goniometry does… Even if you use goiniometry and get less than optimal extensibility does it matter… There are muscles that have been pulled long, like a guitar string, in every dysfunction. The question becomes how do we treat a muscle that has been pulled long? As far as the feel good argument, well, we know that is a dangerous line of thinking… What we perceive and what will make us better are not one in the same… If we continue with that logic, than release work must be bad because it feels terrible.

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 11:33am: Very true. maybe after this semester i'll be able to contribute more…

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 11:36am: It's a bit of a conundrum I admit… Long and Overactive… There are a few muscles that fall into this category… atleast one for each major dysfunction. We could have said something about the piriformis and potentially the posterior deltoid as well.

Karam Al-hamdani, January 29 at 12:07pm: FMS active straight leg raise, use it as a guideline for everything else, then based on your screen you can put on whichever hat you need to fix the issue at stake. Therapist if therapy is needed or strength coach if training is needed.

I also think that we cannot point the finger on one area "the hamstrings" we can't neglect the glutes, gastric soleus complex, hip flexors, abs, adductors, etc etc.

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 12:11pm: There is nothing wrong with the FMS screening, but it depends on what the perceived issue is. Weight-baring vs gravity reduced are very different and produce different results. I'm not saying that it's not helpful, but it might not be the correct tool to use all the time.

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 12:15pm: Hey Karam, The test by itself does not tell you much… as you said (and reinforced by Jemimah) you can attribute a poor performance on the test to poor core strength, adductor tightness, psoas tightness, hip joint dyskinesis, etc… I think part of the issue many individuals have with choosing the correct stretches to improve performance is they do not know why we stretch. That is - how does stretching a muscle effect our human movement system?

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 12:32pm: length tension… cross bridges… passive insufficiency…

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 12:38pm Nice Jemimah, If you don't mind I am going to elaborate and clarify for some who may be less familiar with these terms. Passive and active insufficiency are just another way of describing length/tension relationships. In essence, if a muscle is not at it's optimal length then we likely have less than optimal cross-bridging between actin and myosin, and therefore less than optimal force production. Therefore, we should stretch to optimize length/tension relationships. If a muscle is already long, you will actually reduce performance if you stretch it (from long to longer - is from bad to worse). Being hyper-mobile is just as dangerous as being tight. So back to the original question, why would you stretch a muscle that is pulled into a lengthened position in so many individuals; i.e. why would you stretch your hamstrings?

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 1:08pm: Well, if you put you put the stipulation of an already pulled muscle, that's a horse of a different color. ( no need to go into the healing response here) but, with a substantial muscle bulk and the potential for active insufficiency early on in an exercise, is stretching so bad? Again, my question is: how does this person function in everyday life? I am hyper-mobile and if I lift heavy and push to a new weight, I need to stretch because I find it helps alleviate soreness.

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 1:21pm: Good questions, we are not discussing a muscle pull as in a muscle strain, we are considering the resting length of a muscle based on postural dysfunction. I know for fact you have long hamstrings, you have admitted to hyper-mobility, and from our classes together at BMCC, I remember discussing your anterior pelvic tilt. Is it bad to keep stretching them… Based on the premises described above… Yes!!! If your hamstrings are long they are not capable of functioning as they should (less than optimal cross-bridging, decreased neural drive, faulty recruitment patterns, altered reciprocal inhibition). If you continue to stretch then it will only exacerbate this tendency. As far as your soreness there are other things you can do. Stretching the muscles that would allow your hamstrings to recover in their ideal length would help (fixing your APT will reduce the tension on your hamstrings all day, not just during your lifts). You could also try pain modalities that do not affect muscle length.. for example, ice, hot baths, and effleurage… all have been shown to create favorable changes in nerve conductivity for the reduction of muscle soreness… heck you could try electric stim. at a sensory level of intensity if you really wanted to get fancy :-)

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 1:27pm: Touché. I've learned that no one stretches their hip flexors nearly as much as they should. I'm a work In progress. But knowing where your body can go also can be a learning tool as to how far you should go. On a side-note. I can't wait to own my own e-stim machine.

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 2:25pm: I have one, and honestly I do not use it much… and I would say that your body is the ultimate learning tool… I try all sorts of stuff in my own routines.

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 2:31pm: Here's a question back to the original post. Have you ever encountered a person who has trouble with hip flexion due to hamstring tightness? I'd imagine some individuals that have posterior pelvic tilt in a body weight squat might benefit from moderate hamstring stretching?

Brian Connors January 29 at 2:32pm: I guess as a trainer the question would be what is this person/athlete stretching for ? what are they trying to accomplish? do they need a long hamstring?? or a short one? what’s the difference in the bio mechanics of a sprinter vs a power lifter? who has stronger legs is the question i want to know?

Brian Connors, January 29 at 2:33pm: because for certain one cannot do the other

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 2:37pm: I am going to assume you are asking me and not being rhetorical: There is one ideal length for a muscle, there is no need to have a long or short hamstring… looking through the conversation above you will note our use of deductive reasoning and the assertion that optimal length/tension should be the goal of any flexibility program. Believe it or not, sprinters and power-lifters should have very similar flexibility. They both would benefit from ideal posture and optimal resting lengths to maximize force production.

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 2:39pm To your last question, there are different types of strength that require different attributes from our movement system. For example, a power-lifter will need maximal motor unit-recruitment, while a sprinter will benefit from the preferential recruitment of Type IIx fibers, intramuscular coordination, and refined motor patterns.

Jemimah Simms January 29 at 2:46pm: Gotta love pre-stretch and cross bridges.

Brian Connors January 29 at 3:04pm: Believe it or not, sprinters and power-lifters should have very similar flexibility - please explain and give example… a squat or a leg press or lunges bio mechanics have nothing to do with running.. stand still on one leg and go thru the motions of running…not even a bike is the same… lance armstrong cant go out run a cross country runner…. why would you want them both to have the same flexiblity??

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 3:08pm Now to your question, I think you are confusing flexibility and the ROM for a given activity.

Karam Al-hamdani, January 29 at 3:13pm: How does the biomechanics of a lunge have nothing to do with running??

Julie Allyson, January 29 at 3:14pm: Oh finally! because I had doing it… I fall over. Thanks, man!

Karam Al-hamdani, January 29 at 3:15pm: And on a side note as a therapist who has an e atom machine I almost NEVER use it on clients they like hands on alot more than machines.

Brent Brookbush January 29 at 3:15pm: If we consider flexibility as your total available ROM at a joint than flexibility becomes a question of ideal muscle extensibility. Considering length/tension relationships we want to ensure that we have the optimal amount of extensibility, or the ideal total ROM in all directions at a joint. No more, no less. This will ensure that we optimal length/tension relationships - improving force production, neuromuscular efficiency, and arthrokinematics (joint motion). The ROM an athlete goes through in their event may predispose them to certain postural changes that disrupt this ideal balance of length/tension relationships, but that does not mean that we would only stretch what they needed for their sport. For example, if I was training lance Armstrong I would likely focus on TFL, Psoas, and Rectus Femoris extensibility as biking has a tendency to increase tonicity of the hip flexor musculature, create adaptive shortening and therefore changing length/tension relationships. This adaptive shortening would also lead to altered reciprocal inhibition and a reduction in glute max neural drive. Although it may be tempting to leave his hip flexors tight because of the ROM he uses during biking, it is actually going to reduce his performance due to the changes in length/tension leading to reduced power per stroke.

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 3:15pm: There is also carryover for athletes. It doesn't guarantee excellence in a different sport but it could make the transition less awkward. If you are more well-rounded in training as opposed to just training the specific muscle groups, you are less likely to become injured. lance Armstrong and in theory become a runner but he would have to learn mechanics first. Everything else is there.

Brian Connors January 29 at 3:15pm: Because there's the part when the heel swings back and kicks the butt..the lunge is only associated in the push, not the turnover

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 3:18pm: We could have a discussion on transferance of exercise to sport, but remember this discussion is about flexibility, specifically stretching a muscle that is long despite being thought of as tight. Just want to keep us on topic. We can do a discussion about transference next week if you kats want :-)

Brian Connors, January 29 at 3:19pm: totally agree Brent

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 3:22pm: Lance Armstrong needs to stretch his hip flexors. Totally.

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 3:27pm: His TFL in particular, have you seen how his knees cave in during his stroke.

Jemimah Simms, January 29 at 3:32pm: Everything on the ventral side of his body. He is a person I would primarily do posterior chain work with and mostly like stay away from hamstring stretching.

Wendy Batts January 29 at 9:26pm: I believe you!

Brent Brookbush, January 29 at 9:34pm: Your Hilarious….

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