Hip And Hamstring Flexibility
Why Is Hip Mobility Important?
Tight hamstrings are a common complaint. It may be because it’s one of the most noticeable things to show up in our yoga practice and in our daily lives. How many times have you heard someone say “I can’t even touch my toes anymore!” Or maybe you have said this yourself. Now, touching our toes does not define our worth; the awareness of this limitation and tension in this area of the body simply provides opportunities for us to investigate. Too often, this investigation leads to repeatedly stretching the area in order to lengthen and hopefully release the tightness. However, continuously stretching hamstrings will not likely provide us with the flexibility we desire and may actually cause further tension, pain, or injury to hamstrings and other areas in our bodies. In order to increase flexibility while maintaining the health of the muscles, we must incorporate a technique called facilitated stretching.
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WHAT EXACTLY IS MUSCLE TIGHTNESS?
First let’s discuss why muscles become tight. Muscle tightness results from an increase in tension through active or passive mechanisms. Passively, muscles can become shortened through postural adaptation- think sitting or walking in high heels all day- or through injury and scarring. Actively, muscles can become shorter due to spasm or contraction. Regardless of the cause, tightness limits range of motion and may create a muscle imbalance.
Page, Phil. “Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation.” International journal of sports physical therapy vol. 7,1 (2012)
What is facilitated stretching, and how can we utilize it to increase flexibility in our hamstrings?
What Is A Facilitated Stretch?
This occurs when we activate, or contract, the same muscle(s) we are stretching. There are two types of muscle contractions- isotonic and isometric. “An isotonic contraction is a voluntary muscle contraction that causes movement … An isometric contraction is a voluntary contraction in which no movement occurs.”
Charland, Jeff & McAtee, Robert E., Facilitated Stretching Fourth Edition, 2014
The latter is the action we adopt in a facilitated stretch. This is important because this is how we maintain the health and integrity of the muscle. If we don’t engage our muscles, eventually they might lose their ability to contract. Losing this ability can lead to imbalances in our bodies; when these imbalances are significant, we can experience a decrease in range of motion. This decrease can lead to injury or chronic pain.
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IMPLEMENT FACILITATED STRETCHING
How can we cultivate this in our practice?
One of the best ways to incorporate facilitated stretching into our practice is to go slowly and to utilize props that will support the process. In the video below, Matt demonstrates the use of a facilitated stretch in forward fold, using a chair. He breaks it down into four digestible actions.
4 Actions to Utilize Facilitated Stretch in Forward Fold
- Lean forward into the big toes.
- Press the back of hamstrings apart.
- Move sit bones up to the sky (will pull up on the hamstring and start to straighten the knees).
- Move sit bones down toward the heels, but don’t move your pelvis.
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