Do This, Not This (#1): Hamstrings and Sciatic Nerves

 stretching your hamstrings doesn't have to result in a concussion ( image source )

stretching your hamstrings doesn't have to result in a concussion (image source)

Some people worry about not being able to touch their toes.

Some feel tight behind their legs and just want to relieve the unpleasant sensation.

Others want to be actively healthy and develop a stretching/mobility routine.

These are all great reasons to stretch.  However, I often see people performing potentially harmful stretches and wasting their time with movements that don't achieve their goals.

So take a look at the alternative "stretches" below.  It'll save you time, help you reach your goals, and prevent injuries.

Don't Do This

Static hamstring stretches may be appropriate at times.  But they're often implemented with terrible form.

 not the best way to stretch ( image source )

not the best way to stretch (image source)

Stretches like the one above, or the common one of placing your foot on a stool to touch your toes, are not the most effective way to improve your "hamstring" extensibility.

Why stretches like these are bad:

  • Not controlling any proximal or distal joints leads to the body taking the path of least resistance (in the picture above the guy is stretching his back)
  • Creates an ischemic event and excessive tension on the sciatic nerves (nerves don't like that)
  • The hamstrings are not the limiting factor with these kinematics
  • There is no antagonistic contractions, controlled isometrics, or other neuromuscular input (other than your body fighting the stretch)
  • It's aggressive and can cause pain or discomfort
  • It can create a transient laxity/creep in the lumbar spine (this would be the worst stretch to do before a deadlift)

Do This Instead

Often times, limitations in someone's "hamstring" or posterior chain comes from the neural tissue (i.e. the sciatic nerve).  But these neural tissues don't like to be stretched.  They need to be mobilized.

Here are 2 exercises to progress through to accomplish this.

1) Supine Sciatic Slider

This is exercise can also be used to relieve pain.

2) Sciatic Tensioner

This is a progression from the slider.  It transiently load the neural tissue.

It will also provide a greater mobilization of the posterior chain tissues.

Summary

If you can't touch your toes, feel tightness behind your legs, or just want healthy flexibility, then you should give these two exercises a try.

Do 1-3 sets of 10-20 reps.  It can be used as a warm-up, cool-down, or simple corrective throughout the day.

Regardless of how you use it, just stop doing the awful static hamstring stretch.