November 7, 2020

How to supercharge hamstring stretching, the Stretch Therapy way


If you have tight hamstrings, please watch this video first (for all the details), and then play it again, and follow along. Make sure you attend to the small details—this is what will make the difference. 

Once you have stretched one leg, play the video again and do the second side. If one side is noticeably tighter than the other, repeat for this side (so tighter side gets two stretches). In time, both legs will get closer together in function.

Do this sequence only once a week in the beginning, because if you do get deeper than normal, you will be muscularly sore tomorrow (and maybe even the next few days). We have found that there's no point in stretching sore muscles, but any limbering (mobility) practises will be fine. A hot bath with Epsom Salts is good, too.

Read transcription

Kit Laughlin:

I'm going to show you now our approach to the hamstring stretch. Now everyone wants to stretch their hamstrings, but doing it the way I'm about to show you will feel quite different in the body from any conventional stretch that you do.

Now most people, when they do this exercise here, which is not a very well done straight-leg forward bend out of yoga and many other systems, what they feel is a very intense stretching sensation at the back of the leg here. And if you pay attention to the sensations in your body when you're doing that, the emotion that you feel, if you stretch strongly enough, is actually fear. And the stretch reflex as well stops you from going further unless you're prepared to spend a very long time in the position.

Well, what I want to show you today is an approach that we use for stretching one hamstring at a time, and which also uses the three neural reflexes in the body that have been written about for 60 or 70 years, and combines them in a way that produces a very strong relaxation effect in the hamstring muscle. So let me show you what that looks like. Also too, I've got a piece of plastic underneath this cushion here so that it will slide on the cotton. I'm going to put my back knee on that and I'm going to put what I'm going to call from now on my front knee, on this cushion here. And the first thing I'm going to do is to let myself come down onto my thigh like this, and then breathe and relax.

Something else that both Mike and Misty said is that the system itself comprises 10,000 tiny details. And it's putting together all of the details that makes the difference. So for example, I said, let yourself relax onto this leg here. And then I said, breathe. Now when I say breathe, I mean, put your awareness and your attention actually into the sensation of breathing at this very moment. And when you do that, you'll find that no matter how relaxed a person you are, or not of course, there is actually more relaxation to be had. So in this position here I would say, take another breath in, and apart from this support hand here, which is holding me up, let the whole body go limp. And let's call that step one.

Now what won't be obvious is that the brain knows exactly where this end of the hamstring equation is, simply because my tummy is resting on my thigh. And we call that reducing the apprehension reflex. I've written about this extensively, but the best exposition is probably in the book Overcome Neck & Back Pain, and you may care to check that out. And the second reflex we are going to use is called the reciprocal inhibition reflex. So this is how it works. I slide myself backwards like this by activating the quadricep muscle on my front leg. And that's what I'm doing now. I'm pushing myself backwards using this muscle and the act of sliding myself backwards using quadricep necessarily inhibits the hamstring muscle. So I actually get a better stretch than if I had just reached down and held my feet as I showed you before.

So in this position here then, another detail is this hip here I'm going to bring back behind me and bring the hip of the back leg forward. And again, that tightened up the pose and emphasizes biceps femoris, the outer hamstring, which everyone, that's their tightest hamstring for sure. Okay. So that's reciprocal inhibition reflex.

And the third reflex I'm going to talk about today in brief is what we call the post contraction inhibition reflex. And this is how that works. This heel here, resting on the mat, I'm going to try and pull it back to my bottom. Now when you pull back, don't pull back too hard, just pull back hard enough to feel which muscles are working, and you might be surprised to find that that action activates the internal and the middle hamstring. And if you pay attention, you can feel that very clearly and directly.

Now the next activation we're going to use is I'm going to press this heel straight down into the floor and again, if you pay attention, you'll find that this activates another hamstring muscle completely. It's called biceps femoris. And when I press down like this and count backwards, five, four, three, two, one, stop, the intensity of the sensation is localized here, underneath the buttock and in the outer part of the hamstring. And again, you can feel that very, very clearly. Then again I tell myself to take in a breath, and to let my trunk relax completely on the leg. And I might stay there for a moment or two until I feel that those hamstring muscles that I just activated have relaxed completely. And that's about now for me.

So I take in another breath and on a breath out, I slowly push myself backwards using the same reflex we used before, the reciprocal inhibition reflex, by pushing back with quadricep on the front leg. And that's the reason for having the slidey thing underneath the back knee. And I breathe and I relax and I say to myself, I'm going to let everything relax except the arm that's holding me up. I can feel the comfort of my thigh against my chest and ribs. I'm paying attention to my breathing. I'm breathing slowly and rhythmically. And I become aware that actually I'm relaxing a little bit more with each breath out. I would normally stay in that position for a minute or two, but that's not going to be particularly edifying for you.

And one of the other aspects that's very different about our approach is the instruction set is extremely detailed and it's based solely and fairly on Western anatomy and physiology. And what we specialize in teaching is functional anatomy. So whilst it's the case that, you know, every little knob on every bone in the body has its own name, that stuff's not important to us. What is important for example is how to put the body into a certain position and alignment that will guarantee that the hip flexors are stretched properly.


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