Hamstrings - Range of Motion & Stretching

Anatomy:

Hamstrings run up the back of the leg and flex the knee and extend the thigh.

The hamstring is actually three muscles -:

  • The semimembranosus (A) runs from the bottom of the pelvis (ischial tuberosity) to the back of the tibia
  • The semitendinosus (B) also runs from the ischial tuberosity to the tibia but its attachment to the tibia is via a long tendon
  • The Biceps femoris (C) has two heads. One joins on to the ischial tuberosity. The other attaches to the back of the femor. Both merge and join onto the fibula.
Hamstring muscles - click to enlarge

How Flexible Should You Be?

Lie on your back. Another person gently lifts one leg straight up (while you keep your back on the floor). They should be able to lift it to 90 to the floor (ie at right angles).

If you try and do this for yourself you will get a different result because then you are working the leg at the same time. This way also enables you to spot any differences in flexibility between your legs.

The old "touch your toes" can give very misleading results. Range of motion can be affect by the tightness of your glutes or the flexibility of your back. So being able to touch your toes doesn't mean you have sufficient flexibility. And the other way, not being able to doesn't necessarily mean the problem is in your hamstring.

How Can You Improve Flexibility?

Two important rules:

There are a number of safe ways to stretch your hamstrings.

All stretches should be on a warm body and repeat 2-3 times on each leg.
Lying Lie on your back. Hug one leg into your chest. Then straighten and pull towards you until you just start to feel the stretch.
As it "softens" bring it in closer.
If you cannot reach your leg use a sock (or a veil) to pull it towards you.
Start position Stretch position - click to enlarge
Sitting Sit with one leg straight out in front and the other bent and relaxed (you are stretching the straight leg). Support yourself with you hands and lean back until there is no stretch.
Move the arms and body forward until you just start to feel the stretch.
Sitting stretch position - click to enlarge
Standing Stand with your leg on a chair (or similar) and the leg bent.
Keep you back straight and your pelvis in neutral.
Bend towards the leg.
(In this case it is the lifted leg not the supporting leg that is being stretched. A similar stretch can be done in a warm swimming pool with floats on the ankle)
Standing stretch position - click to enlarge

References:

Calais-Germain, B. & Lamotte , A (1993), Anatomy of Movement, Seattle, WA: Eastland Press
Dalgleish, Michael, lectures and workshops 1997-2003
Gray, Henry, Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical, 15th ed, Bounty Books, 1977
Stark, Dr Steven D, The Stark Reality of Stretching, 4th ed (rev),The Stark Reality Corp, 1999 (1997)

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