Why the Hamstrings are so Important to Flexibility

Hamstring flexibility is essential to improving posture and any joint pain point or injury. In this post we discuss hamstring fascia and why it has such an impact on the body head to toe. It's very common to measure flexibility by how easy it is to touch your toes. We assume that our hamstrings have to flexible to make that movement. This is not correct. The hamstrings aren't responsible for folding the body forward, they are responsible for standing us up. As a result they impact the spine and all of the joints both above and below. 

What are your hamstrings and how many do you have? 

First, let's get a visual image:

This is your pelvis. It sits at the base of your spine. Your 3 hamstring muscles attach at the base of your pelvis and below your knee on the inside and outside of the lower leg.

  • By design, the hamstrings are 'tendinous' tissue. Meaning - they are dense and tough and accumulate un-healthy fascia easily.
  • Because they attach to the pelvis, their health and flexibility determines the movement in the pelvis.
  • When the hamstrings are full of dense and even scarred fascia, they stop moving. They can be 'frozen' in a short position, long position, twisted position, or a combination throughout each hamstring.
  • Inflexible hamstrings hold the pelvis in a dysfunctional position.
  • This creates poor alignment in the hip and knee joints, compression in the spine, and poor posture in the shoulders and neck.
  • Creating an increase in hamstring flexibility and pelvis movement is foundational to having a body that moves and feels better head to toe.

Why traditional hamstring stretching is a bad idea.

During most forms of traditional hamstring stretching 3 things happen:

1. Micro tears form in the muscle. Your body's immune system responds to this by patching up the tears with fascia (white blood cells, fibroblasts, etc.).

2. You are training your muscle to stay over-stretched and weak... and to not contract and be strong like it is designed to do.

3. You are over-stretching your ligaments and tendons and forcing biomechanical substitutions in your joints to achieve a range of motion.

Benefits of Stretching Hamstrings (Correctly):

1. Improved posture. The hamstrings are responsible for standing the body upright. They do this when they shorten properly. Notice how when we age we hunch over. This is happening from below... the hamstrings are no longer shortening, which tilts the pelvis forward, which in turn pushes the shoulders and neck forward.  The widower's hump! 

2. Back pain, hip pain and knee pain disappear. The lateral hamstring is related to back pain. The medial hamstring is related to hip pain. The central hamstring is related to knee pain. When you stretch these three muscle groups using resistance and improve the health of the fascia, they become more supple, pliable and moveable. And because they attach at the base of the pelvis and inside and outside of the knee... they free up those joints: hips, low back and knees. 

3. Improved physiological functioning in the bladder, brain and pancreas organs. The bladder meridian runs along the lateral hamstring. So when that muscle group becomes healthier so does the bladder organ. The brain meridian runs along the central hamstring so when that muscle group becomes healthier so does the brain organ and the same is true for the pancreas meridian running along the medial hamstring. 

4. Repairs damage of too much sitting. Sitting is the new cigarette smoking. The average person sits 6.5 hours per day, and it's even more for teens. When we are sitting we are increasing dense fascia particularly in the 3 hamstring muscles groups. The upper hamstring is stuck in lengthened position and the lower hamstring in a shortened position. Whenever we hold a position for any length of time, dense fascia forms keeping us stuck in that position. So when you go to stand up, your upper hamstring won't shorten - forcing your pelvis into flexion and creating compression in the spine. Similarly, your lower hamstring won't lengthen, creating strain in the front of the leg and knees. Stretching your hamstrings with resistance removes the negative affects of sitting. 

What’s the right way to stretch your hamstrings and why you should do it every day:

Resistance stretching (the Bendable Body Method) removes dense fascia from your hamstrings - making them more flexible and strong. The muscle starts short with the muscles fibers and the muscle-fascia contracted into one another. When you add resistance before lengthening the muscles, you engage the fascia. As you lengthen with resistance the muscle-fascia tissue pulls apart at a 45 degree angle allowing friction and force to remove the dense accumulated fascia from the muscle. This is a subtractive technology. Dense, unhealthy fascia is removed or ‘exfoliated’ with every resistance stretch movement. Depending on the health of the fascia, significant force can be required to lengthen a muscle that is resisting.

How long will it take to loosen your hamstrings and why?

Sitting is a greater threat to public health than cigarettes. For the typical person, more than half of their day is spent sitting. And the average office worker sits a shocking 15 hours every single day. As your total sitting time increases, so does your risk of an early death. It only takes 20 minutes of sitting to create dense fascia in your hamstring muscles, so this is an area we advise you stretch on a regular basis.

We sit for many hours a day, starting at a young age. Every time you sit down, your hamstrings get injured in the form of little micro tears throughout the muscles. It's like they are over stretching repetitively and get mini-tears. Your body's immune system patches up the injury/tears with the only band-aid it has: dense fascia. So when you go to stand up, your hamstrings are less pliable and bendable and they in turn limit the movement in your pelvis. This wreaks havoc throughout your body - ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, neck, elbows, and even wrists.

So what can you do about this? Stretch every single day! The Mayo Clinic suggests moving every 30 minutes could reduce your risk of death from a sedentary lifestyle. The good news is that every Bendable Body hamstring stretch gets you moving AND targets your fascia to keep pain and stiffness at bay. Try setting a timer on your phone to go off every 30 minutes as a reminder to get up, stretch, and drink water.

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Here are the best stretches for your 3 hamstrings that you can do anywhere:

Medial Hamstring:

Pillar 1 - Start Position: In a lunge position with arm inside knee and space between thumb and pointer behind heal. 

Pillar 2 - Resist: Pressing knee and shoulder together and driving heal into hand. 

Pillar 3 - Lengthen for the Stretch: Sitting hips back. 

Pillar 4 - Release and Return to the Start position. Repeat Pillar 1.

*Try 3 sets of 6-10 repetitions. Stand up and walk around and notice how your hips feel.  

Central Hamstring:

Pillar 1 - Start Position: Laying on your back with your hands interlaced behind a slightly bent leg. 

Pillar 2 - Resist: Drive your leg into your hands. 

Pillar 3 - Lengthen for the Stretch: Draw your leg into your chest while you continue to resist. 

Pillar 4 - Release and Return to the Start position. Repeat Pillar 1.

*Try 3 sets of 6-10 repetitions. Stand up and walk around and notice how your knees feel.  

Lateral Hamstring:

Pillar 1 - Start Position: Your elbows on the seat of chair and your legs under your hips.  

Pillar 2 - Resist: Pressing the front outside ball of the foot of the target leg down into the floor. 

Pillar 3 - Lengthen for the Stretch with resistance throughout the movement: Slowly lifting the opposite leg and keeping the hip closed.  

Pillar 4 - Release and Return to the Start position. Repeat Pillar 1.

*Try 3 sets of 6-10 repetitions. Stand up and walk around and notice how your low back and ankles feel.  

9 thoughts on “Why the Hamstrings are so Important to Flexibility”

  1. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia Syndrome
    over30 yrs ago after 2 back surgeries. Massage, stretching and water exercise have kept m moving. Thanks for these good stretching exercises!

  2. I love these emails!! Totally make me understand why I’m doing Bendables and how it is assisting me to improve my overall body health!

    1. It’s probably the most important stretch you can do… for the tightest tissue in your body (in everyone’s body) universally. The results will be long lasting and all pervasive.

    1. You are not alone… so many of us are in pain. It’s part of a chronic human condition. It can change and we are here to help!

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