A “Hip” Guide to Happier Movement: The Hamstrings
A “Hip” guide to happier movement continues, and this week we take a look at the hamstrings. As we know, the hip flexors and hamstrings are two groups of muscles that need to work in symmetry, in order to maintain proper balance, distribute load and stability through the pelvis. Many believe, or look at yoga, as merely a means of increasing flexibility, and that the more flexible you are, the less susceptible to injury you will be.
Way too often I find students moving into a posture while trying to achieve a version of a certain posture exerting too much force than their muscles can bear, thus “cranking” into it and moving beyond their normal range of mechanical alignment. When it comes to postures involving the hamstrings, this is all too common.
The truth is, sometimes being too flexible can increase your chances of sustaining an injury, as the muscle and associated joints are now in a constant state of slack and with this comes instability of the joint, thus stability needs to be ascertained. This is the dynamic duality of our systems. Where there is an increase in mobility – there needs to be an equal force of stability to create symmetry. Yoga is about achieving a balance between flexibility and strength, and mobility and stability.
The hamstrings groups is comprised of four muscle parts ; the first two are the Biceps Femoris (long and short head). The biceps femoris’s function is to flex and laterally rotate the leg and extend and laterally the thigh. The short head has it’s same origin at the lateral hip joint, then only crosses the knee joint and functions to flex and laterally rotate the leg.
The Semimembranosus originates in the ischial tuberosity and inserts into the medial tibial condyle. The Semitendinosus muscle also originates at the ischial tuberosity and inserts into the upper part of the medial surface of the tibia and medial tibial condyle. Both these muscles, extend the thigh and flex and medially rotate the leg.
The ideal length of the hamstrings is achieved at 80 – 90 degrees of hip flexion, which most often is questioned because students get wrapped up in “what the pose should look like,” rather then what their bio mechanics will and should allow. Where the emphasis is then placed on becoming too flexible in order to achieve the pose; however, when we push too hard into a pose, the tension has to be re distributed somewhere and this energy is most likely going to pull at the musculotendinous junction or strain at the hip and knee joint.
This can then not only lead to injury, but to faulty movement patterns that will persist off the mat. Remmber the fascia systems? When we change one meridian line, we uniquely impact them all. As I mentioned in the previous article pelvic alignment plays a crucial role in balance, load distribution and locomotion; therefore, when we think about how many muscles stem from the ischial tuberosity, you can see how critical it is to focus on balance and symmetry of mobility vs stability and flexibility vs strength. Two of the main joints at the pelvis are referred to as the sacroiliac joints. When the hamstrings are stressed some students can exprience hip, as well as knee injuries. Tightness in the low back can also contribute to excessive stresses on the hamstring attachment as well, or lack of hamstring mobility.
When working with hamstrings in any health modality, always remember the hamstrings are never alone they are part of the posterior muscular chain, the back line of the fascial system and are a huge primary mover of many movement patterns; therefore, respect the hammies and your mechanics within postures.
Some tips to avoid over stretching and creating better balance mechanics in your postures:
- Always Aim to Keep Your Pelvis Level
- Practice your postures only within your natural alignment (no cranking ~ leave this for hitting trails on your mtn bike)
- Keep the thighs active and engaged
- Distract at the hip joint
- Bend the knees if needed, especially if you are a beginner
- Work within your genetic limitations
- Use props; such as blocks and straps if needed
- Stretch your hip flexors
- Listen to your body, never work through pain
Now hit the mat and enjoy!