When we feel tension in any particular muscle, our first instinct is to stretch. We've been conditioned to react to tight muscles with "you gotta stretch." However, that feeling of being tight doesn't automatically mean we have to lengthen or stretch our muscles.
No place is this more evident than in our hamstrings. A lot of us walk around thinking our hamstrings are tight and with good reason. We feel like there is a lot of tightness back there, and the only solution we've only been told to do is stretch.
However, if you’ve been stretching them over and over and over with little to no progress, maybe it’s time for a different approach.
Banded Leg Lowers & Core Control Leg Lowers
One reason that we may feel hamstring tightness is because they are keeping our hips stable under "protective tension." So we need to do exercises that teach us to control our hips/pelvis.
Using a band helps to keep our base leg in place as we lower the opposite leg. As we get better with using the band, the progression moves to a core controlled leg lower, where we put increased demand on our core muscles.
Breathing to Decrease Tension
No matter what the reason, sometimes our nervous system can leave our muscles all wound up and “tight.” Our body is resilient and will hold on to tension to protect ourselves, sometimes to our own detriment.
One way we can “reset” ourselves is to breathe. This isn't just the normal breathing we do without thinking about it. We want to look at doing deep, diaphragmatic breathing.
To do this, we'll test where we're starting, do some breathing drills, then retest to see our result. Reach for your toes and see how far you get. Then lay on the ground, inhale through the nose, feeling your rib cage and belly expand and exhale through the mouth.
Reach for your toes again to see what happened. Were you able to get further?
Increase Length With Accentuated Eccentric RDL's
If we dive into anatomy we can change our muscle's length down to the fascicles or the bundles of muscle fibers that make up our muscles. In order to do this, we add load and slow contractions to exercises like an RDL.
These eccentric RDL’s add a loaded stretch but also can improve your strength, and lead to some muscle gains
Hamstring PAILS/RAILS and PNF
One way to increase the stretch or length on the hamstrings is to use a little trick where we activate the muscle, and then use the opposite muscle to signal the hamstring to relax. This also allows us to pull into a deeper stretch
We’re combining stretching with some isometric contractions to create more range of motion. In this case, we’re pressing into the rack with our heel, contracting the hamstrings. Then we pull into the stretch and a new range of motion.