Hamstrung

...continued

1. Sitting tall at the edge of a table with a good natural lumber curve.

2. Extending a leg leads to loss of the lumbar curve.

3. This is as far as she can extend the leg without losing the lumbar curve.

1. Muscle fibers overlap significantly like this, in their optimal working range

2. Overly stretched muscle fibers, at the end of their working range, look more like this and cannot generate force as well

1. Sitting tall at the edge of a table with a good natural lumber curve.

2. Extending a leg leads to loss of the lumbar curve.

3. This is as far as she can extend the leg without losing the lumbar curve.

Now, lower your legs and repeat, but this time pay attention as you straighten them through the movement arc. At what point of the swing arc do you start to notice resistance? It is likely that you didn't encounter the full and immediate resistance of your hamstrings at the end of leg extension all at once. It is likely that your hamstrings started to gradually tighten. In most athletes with significant hamstring restriction, resistance to lengthening starts early and builds throughout the available range of motion. Remember, your quads have to overcome this hamstring inertia to do their job. This means that you're giving away force potential in even low-power activities like walking. This brutal phenomenon is particularly visible in rowing where an athlete with short hams will always achieve full leg extension before the end of the pull.

Let's have a reality check for a moment. Does failing this quick test mean that you can't squat 400 pounds, or rip off a sub-three minute Fran? No. In fact, most of you probably failed that sitting test and still have impressive performance numbers. And you probably use these high performance measures as rationalization that you don't need to do anything about your tight legs. But just imagine for a moment how much more you might still have in the tank if you simply eliminated any potential hamstring "drag". You would certainly get better gas mileage in your car if you didn't drive around with the emergency brake on. Again, we aren't interested in stretching our hamstrings (just) to avoid back pain when we're ninety (or thirty) years old; we're after being fitter, faster, and stronger now.

So tight hams make your quads work harder than they should have to. But there's more bad news. Tight hamstrings also have limited ability to generate force when they are put under load at

1. Muscle fibers overlap significantly like this, in their optimal working range

2. Overly stretched muscle fibers, at the end of their working range, look more like this and cannot generate force as well the very end of their available range. Muscle force production is greatly affected by where in the range of motion the muscle is asked to generate that force. This is known as the length-tension relationship. More specifically, the length-tension relationship means that force (tension) generation in skeletal muscles is a function of the magnitude of the overlap between the functional contractile units of that muscle. Or, in plain English: overly stretched working muscles are weak muscles. You have actually experienced this for yourself many times. For example, most athletes will have noticed that they are much stronger at the mid-range of a movement like a pull-up or squat than they are when the relevant muscles are under peak stretch. As human beings, our muscles are set up so that their internal structures allow for optimal overlapping of the base contractile units. This is why force is typically optimized in a muscle that is working in mid range. The inherent design flaw with this is that the further you move the muscle away from the optimized working length (like the hamstrings at the bottom of the squat), the less force the muscle is capable of generating. This is why heavy quarter squats are very popular and heavy full squats are not. If you are in hamstring length denial, you are not only making the muscles opposite the hamstrings work harder, but you are limiting the potential force production of the hamstrings themselves because you are placing the muscles into an early position of diminishing "end range" force.

But wait, it gets worse. Because we are trying to shift stretching rationale away from injury prevention and toward performance improvement, this article would be remiss if it did not point out that your lack of hamstring length also affects your functional application of force in movements like the squat and ultimately reduces the effectiveness of your body's natural leverage and range of motion in these very fundamental movements. In squatting, for example, everyone knows that tight hamstrings bring about a whole host of gross mechanical errors, from knees way out past the feet to lifting the heels to horrifically unsafe rounded backs.

But what about you, with your big, safe, CrossFit Total-tested squat? Well, there is a point in everyone's squat where the athlete's lumbar curve will begin to reverse itself. It is at this point where biomechanical positioning starts to be less than optimal. In world class weightlifters this reversal point tends to be in the squatting

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Dealing With Back Pain

Dealing With Back Pain

Deal With Your Pain, Lead A Wonderful Life An Live Like A 'Normal' Person. Before I really start telling you anything about me or finding out anything about you, I want you to know that I sympathize with you. Not only is it one of the most painful experiences to have backpain. Not only is it the number one excuse for employees not coming into work. But perhaps just as significantly, it is something that I suffered from for years.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment