I have been a card carrying member of the short hamstrings club my whole life. As a result of a birth injury I had, among other things, profoundly limited range of motion in my posterior chain (think back body/postural musculature). So while every other little girl in ballet class was effortlessly falling into a full split, I was busy trying desperately to touch my toes, which at that time resulted in merely touching my knees. Yep you guessed it, ballet classes didn't last long for me (and ended in tears...). I honestly had recurring dreams as a child about doing an exquisite forward fold and being able to press my nose to my knees.
While I still struggle to some extent with mobility restrictions in my posterior chain (the nose to knees dream has yet to be realized for example) I have come a long, long way from the days of feeling like the gimpy girl in ballet class. I still smile every time my hands touch the floor in a forward fold, and I doubt that will ever go away! So for those of you who are looking at the floor with yearning as your fingertips dangle far above the floor, this DIY Friday is for you.
The first 3 videos are re-posts from my private practice blog, Soma Happy, which was the inspiration for FFF (it became FFF because I wanted it to be more than just my voice). So you can watch my three favorite insta-hamstring lengtheners in action! They are all taken from Yoga Tune Up®, which I teach, and if you want to get the magical therapy balls for yourself, you can find them here. And once you get past all of my videos, there is a link to a super useful post from Gray Cook which offers another perspective.
First up, how to use the therapy balls to safely roll out the hamstrings directly without agitating the sciatic nerve:
Secondly, this one is a sneaky little side door entrance to longer hamstrings! You'll find that by simply rolling out your feet, that your entire posterior chain is lengthened courtesy of the magic of fascia (connective tissue). Test it out for yourself by doing an initial forward fold/toe touch, then rolling out one foot, and doing another toe touch before moving on to the other side. Are your hamstrings much longer on the side that got the foot rolling? Boy howdy they are!
Lastly, this is a stretch called Asymmetrical Forward Fold which will really get you and your toes closer to one another. Try the same test/retest as in the last video by doing before and after forward folds, checking the difference between sides when you have only worked one leg.
Ok that's just about enough of me. All of my approaches here are myo-fascial release oriented. For another perspective from a great mind in functional movement, this is an excellent article from Gray Cook, one of the co-founders of Functional Movement Systems, which addresses the neural factors at play, and the why behind short hamstrings. Hint: many of us are using them as stabilizers, so if you want to lengthen them, you had also better pay close attention to upping the ante on stability and motor control as well. Bonus! It also has phenomenal instruction on deadlifting (with video) if you stick around to the end. Check it out here: What's In a Toe Touch?
Photo by kevinalle