View Full Version : Help with hamstring flexibility

Dan McDougald
10-13-2006, 10:55 AM
Allright Greg, you've convinced me that I need to stretch my hamstrings. I can't wait until the next PM issue, so give me some help now on what to do.

Greg Everett
10-13-2006, 10:57 AM
Just a few more days... Until then, here's one of my favorites: Lie on your back, preferably with some kind of lumbar support to maintain your lordotic arch. Pull one knee to your chest without allowing your hips to rotate AT ALL. Hang out with the knee to your chest for a little while, fighting that pelvic rotation. Once you've loosened up a bit in that position, begin trying to straighten that leg without changing your knee and pelvis positions -- you may not be able to straighten it very much at all, but that's fine. Hold that, making sure that pelvis is static, for 20-60 seconds.

I've found this to be one of the best ways to make sure my clients are not absorbing some of the stretch with their lower backs and actually stretching the hamstrings. It also seems to hit the lateral part of the leg a little better, which tends to not receive as much of a stretch in other positions. Thanks to Kelly Starrett of San Francisco CrossFit (http://www.sanfranciscocrossfit.com/), the best PT EVER, for introducing me to that one.

Chris Forbis
10-15-2006, 06:34 PM
My PT introduced to a very slight variation on that stretch.

It is basically the same, but instead of pulling your knee to your chest, keep your femur at a 90 degree angle to the floor. Keep it there with a towel wrapped around it that you can pull on to keep it upright. Now do leg extensions while in that position. On a good day I can get my knee angle open to about 135 degrees... yeah, I'm inflexible.

I have also found that I prefer doing it without any lordotic support. That way it forces me to consciously think about maintaining it myself. When I was using my Abmat, I was relaxing too much and end up letting my pelvis rotate.

Duncan Swain
10-18-2006, 12:09 PM
Chris - I was wondering if your inflexibility hampered your training in any way? My hamstrings are incredibly tight (see the next thread in this forum for the reason), With legs straight I can bend at the hips to about only 45 degrees on a bad day!

I find that this stops me in OL from really going all out. It's always in the back of my mind that the inflexibility in my hamstrings is going to make me lose my lordotic arch and something's going to go.

Just wondered what your experience was with OL and flexibility?

Robb Wolf
10-18-2006, 12:14 PM
Tight hamstrings can really buggar any pulling efforts (DL, OL). I tweaked my sacrum about 2 weeks ago due to tight hamstrings while DL'ing. I actually rotated the sacrum (ouch) and the only thing that has helped is extensive stretching and foam rolling to get at some scar tissue. My home workstation is much of the culprit as I had been elevating my feet while writing. Putting together a standing workstation with a bar stool. Keeps the hip flexors open and encourages me t keep upright and take breaks.

Duncan Swain
10-18-2006, 12:59 PM
Robb - do you know what caused your tight hamstrings? And what have you done to stretch them?

Also, I've been trying all sorts of stretching for many years to lengthen/stretch my hamstrings (PNF, frequent visits to an experienced osteopath used to dealing with sports-related injuries) and nothing seems to have much effect. So, in terms of OL, how do I deal with that? Do I avoid max efforts? Do I avoid certain lifts (DLs, squats etc)? Stop OL altogether and pursue other metcon/bodyweight exercise?

Advice appreciated. And of course I'll sttill keep trying to stretch the buggers...

Robb Wolf
10-18-2006, 04:03 PM
Long stretches of time sitting on my fanny with my feet elevated. It shortened both my hamstrings and hip flexors. Nifty trick. I used the sequences in Greg's stretching article...that dude throws something worhtwhile together once in a while!

Chris Forbis
10-18-2006, 04:53 PM

You nailed it. My tight hamstrings caused me to lose my lordotic arch (never ever had it, actually). So my back got injured and now I'm rehabbing it. I'm starting from the ground up with air squats. Working with my PT helped to increase my self-awareness of my lordotic arch tremendously. So now I'm working on undoing 25 years of bad habits.

Eva Claire Synkowski
10-19-2006, 04:22 AM
i had to chime in on this one. like chris, im fighting a back injury due to tight hamstrings/no lordotic arch.

duncan - unless the mecahnics are there, you really shouldnt be doing any movement loaded. it sounds like youre pretty tight, so im guessing some of the form is compromised in ol, squats, etc., in which case flexibility needs to be the priority. the only progress ive made with my hamstrings is frequent stretching throughout the day. getting up at least once every 2 hours for 5 minutes or so. i had been relatively pain free with this protocol for a month. my back recently flared up again since being "too busy" at work these past couple days to get up. if you need some stretching ideas, i second robb's recommendation - check out pm 16 for greg's article.

Jason Smith
10-19-2006, 11:17 AM
Greg - Which PM contains the hamstring stretches? From the post above I thought it would be the October 2006 issue, but it doesn't contain them.

Tried the stretch mentioned above and it is great. Thanks.

Eva Claire Synkowski
10-19-2006, 11:37 AM
not that im greg, but issue 16 (may 2006) has stretches (not all focused on hamstrings) and if i remember correctly, issue 3 has a few different ones, too

Duncan Swain
10-19-2006, 12:30 PM
Thanks for the advice. I already have the PM with Greg's stretching piece, I'll dig it out and get back on it. Until then I guess it's no loaded OLs.

Chris, Eva - are you avoding OL completely till your flexibility is in place?

Chris Forbis
10-19-2006, 02:29 PM
Olympic lifting is a long way off for me. Right now I'm just taking it easy and stretching a lot. Once I'm feeling pretty good with my unladen squat (maybe another month), I will start doing light back squats.

Eva Claire Synkowski
10-19-2006, 04:18 PM
right now, i just crossfit, so ME oly days fairly non existent. i tailor wods to be relatively short, and stay away from those movements which i can't execute with good form at high intensity (i.e., high rep snatches at some intermediate load with poor form = back ipain). ill work ohead sqs, snatches with PVC/training bar into the warm up, do a wod with things i can do full rom (which may include hang power cleans/snatches), and then stretch the hamstrings.

its worth backing off oly lifts if youre doing them with poor form. once you have the flexibility, youll regain your strength (and likely surpass it) relatively quickly.

Robb Wolf
10-22-2006, 02:07 PM
Here is that link:

-Ross Hunt
11-21-2006, 09:27 PM
Just a few more days... Until then, here's one of my favorites: Lie on your back, preferably with some kind of lumbar support to maintain your lordotic arch. Pull one knee to your chest without allowing your hips to rotate AT ALL. Hang out with the knee to your chest for a little while, fighting that pelvic rotation. Once you've loosened up a bit in that position, begin trying to straighten that leg without changing your knee and pelvis positions -- you may not be able to straighten it very much at all, but that's fine. Hold that, making sure that pelvis is static, for 20-60 seconds.

Do you guys ever work this or any of your other stretching with Jumpstretch/Ironwoody Bands?

A guy I knew in college, who got me into most of this crazy fringe fitness stuff, would have us do this stretch with a band looped around the ankle, tractioning the hamstring fuller into stretch, doing PNF stuff. The band makes it easier to work flexibility in-between a straight ham stretch and a way-out-to-the-side groin stretch: Full 360 degrees.

Ken Urakawa
11-22-2006, 10:50 AM
Article on band-assisted stretching:


Greg Everett
11-22-2006, 01:37 PM
with self stretching, bands can be helpful in cases when present flexibility doesn't allow you to reach whatever part of your body you need to grab--but a piece of 1" nylon webbing tied in a loop is a lot cheaper and will transfer whatever force you place on it to whatever it's attached to instead of stretching.

-Ross Hunt
11-22-2006, 08:29 PM

Cool. Thanks.

Rick Deckart
01-08-2007, 09:13 AM

this is my first post on the Performance Menu Forum. I noticed that some people have requested information about hamstring stretches and stretching in general, so I will give a little advice from my non-expert point of view. I do own around 30 books on the topic of stretching and tried practically all systems available in print or other media and in my humble opinion one of the best books ever written on the topic is “Stretching and Flexibility” from Kit Laughlin. If I had to recommend just one book it would be this. It is organised in lessons similar to the courses the group around Kit Laughlin teaches and has arguably the most detailed explanations of stretches I have seen and a serious no nonsense approach which is relatively easy to follow and highly effective once used on a regular basis.

The group around Kit Laughlin developed a technique which they call pre-exhaust stretching, which is somewhat similar to what Pavel T. refers to as threshold shutdown threshold isometric stretching, although the former is dynamical while the latter is isometric (and there is a similar original PNF technique, see below…), but much better explained and probably safer as well (one can seriously injure oneself doing PNF limit stretches---I was there…).

A nice little pdf detailing the technique and showing exemplarily how one can stretch the hamstrings with this approach can be found here:


Whoever tries this take care, this not an official element of the ‘Laughlin school’ but still in an experimental state. Of course a similar technique can be found in the original PNF handbooks, but PNF after the textbook requires a educated practitioner and BTW is much more than mere stretching…

With respect to band stretches, some years ago I did a medline research and found this little article where bands were used with elite athletes to increase flexibility dramatically, at least in the context of these female gymnasts who had years of flexibility training under their belt:


I tried this and it works but requires precision in your dynamic/ballistic leg swings.

Lastly in my opinion it is ‘mission critical’ if you are interested in real progress to understand that there are different kinds of stretching:

#1 Stretching to achieve the full status quo ROM, what one can/should do practically every day.
#2 Stretching to feel good and
#2 stretching to increase the status quo ROM.

The latter I would do no more than once or twice a week as you have to recover fully before you can go on. It may be different for others but that’s my experience. I know that there is a school among contortionist where practitioners stretch one muscle/muscle group for 10-15 or even 30 continuous minutes every day (for example Tige Young: http://www.tigeyoung.com/stretching ) but for the average human being this will not work but lead to injury in the long term (IMHO) which in the context of stretching always means complete loss of the gained flexibility. I was able to do full side and straddle splits two decades ago when I pulled my right hamstring while doing a PNF limit stretch, well after that I lost most of my hamstring flexibility and was never able to fully regain the old flexibility (scars don’t stretch well), so take care…

Robb Wolf
01-08-2007, 05:39 PM
Hey Peter!
Kick-ass first post! Good stuff. Kelly Starrett of CF San Francisco is the re-hab guru and loves the shut-down isometrics.

Rick Deckart
01-17-2007, 10:02 AM
Hi Robb,

sorry for my late reply... You should try to get a hold of Phil Lancaster, who is arguably the top coach with respect to flexibility training. Years ago there used to be mailinglist for contortionist where he gave extraordinary detailed advice. I would be interested to read what he has to write on the topic today.

One thing I remember, I used to have a printout but I don't find it anymore, is that he adviced doing calisthenics between stretching sets. Say you are working on your side split: do your 30sec or how long it takes stretch, then do 15-20 JumpingJacks or similar, and repeat the stretch etc. Alternate these till you are ready with your session. The reason he gave, if memory serves me, was that you would not get a s sore as you would without those jumpingjacks. So you could savely continue early and make in consequence larger progress in a shorter time frame, and of course it keeps you warm between sets which is paramount for stretching.



Robb Wolf
01-19-2007, 07:54 AM

That is REALLY interesting. Years ago I stretched between all PL'ing movements...which I was later told was limiting my top end strength. I had an easy front and side split AND pretty good PL numbers. Hmmmm....time efficients if nothing else. I might give something like this a whirl again and i will do some searching on the chap you mentioned.

Rick Deckart
01-19-2007, 09:57 AM
You could try the homepage of Tige Young for some contact info. Phil Lancaster used to post in his forum, but this is no longer an open forum... BTW I have the contact info of the guys who developed pre-exhaust stretching. If you interested I will shoot you a PM...



Robb Wolf
01-21-2007, 04:05 PM
Thanks Peter!