So you suffer from tight hamstrings. You can hardly touch your toes, and your exercise form with anything involving your hamstrings is less than ideal. Naturally, your first inclination is probably to stretch your hamstrings.
However, the cause of your tight hamstrings might actually be in a different area of your body. This is the idea of regional interdependence, which says that we can address dysfunction and improve performance without necessarily training the area of complaint.
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Joints and muscles are impacted by everything around them. For example, if you have tight hamstrings, your lower back might hurt. Everything connects, so it’s more effective to train the body as a whole than to train segments. In my opinion, improving performance and health is more about removing the body’s own natural barriers.
That’s why I recommend taking a whole-body approach when treating your hamstrings. Doing a Plank might not seem like it will affect the hammies in any way, shape or form, but there’s more than meets the eye.
Here’s how I recommend treating your tight hamstrings without actually stretching them.
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Simple rolling patterns tap into early developmental movements, and they are a great way to encourage core stabilization with arm and leg movement. A strong and stable core helps create better movement in the hips, which prevents the hamstrings from having to compensate and do too much work.
Rather than getting stuck on a rigid platform of sets and repetitions, provide your body with a movement “experience.” Allow the pattern to dictate the necessary number of sets and repetitions, whether it be 2 or 20. Once the sides are symmetrical and “automatic,” it’s time to move on.
Plank variations and quadruped exercises like the Bird Dog are effective positions that require increased stability and motor control. They are often a great transition to tall and half-kneeling exercises, allowing you to address rotational instability (required in throwing and swinging activities) and reciprocal (running, jumping and throwing) asymmetries. Asymmetries are one of the most common causes of hamstring tightness and injury due to overuse.
Typically neglected during these movements is breathing quality. It’s important to breathe from the diaphragm and not through the chest. You should see belly movement, not shoulder elevation. Check out the video player above for a demonstration of challenging Plank variations.
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Half-kneeling Chops and Lifts are great for encouraging glute activation in a position that reduces quad and hamstring activity. This is an important skill to help you learn to feel how the glutes should be activating along with the core. It has great carryover to moves like Lunges, Step-Ups and running.
Gray Cook and his staff at Functional Movement Systems often suggest using the half-kneeling position to address problems with the Lunge, hurdle step and running motion. Proper form in these essential movements will ultimately protect your hamstrings and keep them from being overworked.