In light of this presenter’s comments and opinions in earlier blog posts, it is appropriate at this point to discuss, in greater detail, the issues surrounding conditioning the Hamstrings for both day-to-day exercise requirements, and for the significantly more intense sports specific adaptation outcomes. These discussion topics are based on observations made as the various Bodii Hamstrings related concepts and techniques have emerged. They include the following.
a) The complicated, intersecting aspects of the need to:
i) Strengthen the primary core muscles and the structures to which they attach (Bodii Program I).
ii) Strengthen the secondary core muscles, which in turn help to stabilise the primary core (Bodii Program I).
iii) Increase contractile strength, range and endurance in the muscles of the peripheral core (which includes the vulnerable Hamstrings), thereby supporting advanced inclusive strength and stability in hips and pelvis, the structure in which the core lies.
b) The diverse range of incidental/deliberate primary and peripheral core inclusions, and the resulting benefits to lumbar and hip/pelvis strength and stability. When conditioning the Hamstrings, this is especially relevant, as the greater part of the hamstrings group originates from the Ischial tuberosity, an anatomical feature located within the hips and pelvis complex.
c) The importance of properly balanced strength, stability and mobility factors in the primary and peripheral core, the active lumbar curve, and the integral nature of their connection to the issue of Hamstrings tightness.
Assessing Hamstrings flexibility/tightness issues.
The following considered observations are extensions to the natural biomechanical and physiological roles and relationships of the structures strengthened and stabilised by the muscles of the primary, secondary and peripheral core (Bodii Program I).
It is the prevailing weakness and instability aspects of the Hamstrings and surrounding structures, together with unco-ordinated strength and flexibility/mobility training practices that are some of the contributing factors leading to common chronic Hamstrings tightness and weakness/injury concerns. Built around this observation, Bodii has developed methods to firstly assess Hamstrings tightness, prior to athletes becoming aware of this problem, and secondly provide some training/conditioning options to assist in minimising the incidence and severity of these tightness/weakness/injury problems.
In past, and even recent strength and fitness training history, upper body range of motion and Hamstrings flexibility, have been determined by an individual's capacity to bend forward at the waist and touch their toes. In spite of the physiological relationship between Hamstrings and the lumbar spine being an accepted principle, this is a determination still being made without due regard for the functional role of the lumbar spine/curve, an area clearly identified as vital to Bodii training principles. Bearing this in mind, it is perfectly reasonable to expect any assessment of Hamstrings flexibility/tightness to be conducted with complete regard for all aspects of the natural physiology and purpose of the spine, and its load distributing curves.
Strangely, in current flexibility assessment situations, even accounting for expanded bases of understanding, this is still not the case. An example is the traditional sit-and-reach test, a test where the subject to be assessed is required to sit on the floor with their legs together and locked at the knees. They are then expected to extend and hold their fingertips as near to or beyond their toes as they are able to manage. An action to be performed without the help of any upper body momentum or extrinsic assistance. No thought or instruction is given to basic postural function, nor of the necessity to also consider, include and maintain the spinal curves.
True to Bodii principles throughout these programs, all assessments of Hamstrings flexibility/tightness should have equal regard for inclusion of the vital spinal curves. Based on this key notion, Hamstrings flexibility should never be assessed in isolation, but inclusive of upper body flexion ranges, and with the following criteria in mind.
1. Degree of natural/instinctive knee bend, when the participant to be assessed is in deepest upper body flexion.
2. Capacity of participant to include and maintain an active lumbar curve through upper body flexion, as the degree of natural/instinctive knee bend is reduced.
3. Capacity of participant to also include and maintain noticeable shoulder/scapula retraction, again through upper body flexion, and again as natural/instinctive knee bend is reduced.
4. When initiating upper body flexion, due to the lack of consistent efforts to stabilise hips and pelvis, there is an observed tendency under this flexion pressure among the majority of individuals to rotate laterally (external) at the hips. The reasons for this are twofold.
i) Because of its controlling influence, and its involvement in externally rotating the hips (Program I), Gluteus maximus tends to dominate in its hip rotation role.
ii) Resulting from the dominant Gluteus maximus, the intrusion of the upper body into the anterior space between the hips/pelvis, causes the legs to open and for hips to rotate externally. Biomechanically, this is the best means to accommodate this inevitably necessary physical compensation.
It is therefore imperative, in these assessments, to also determine the individual’s capacity to maintain strictly aligned adductors. A consideration that must encompass the degree of pronation and/or supination in each foot.
These criteria remain true and constant in all situations, and in all postures and positions. It is not the individual’s capacity to reach to or beyond their toes that commands foremost attention, rather it is the ability to retain the integrity of the spinal curves in their continuing context to recognised stabilising peripheral functions.
Strategy to relieve Hamstrings flexibility/tightness issues.
The strategy to relieve Hamstrings weakness/tightness arises from the above criteria. Its starting point is found in Program I, and has gradually evolved as the Bodii programs have developed. The principles of Bodii training are in accord with accepted practice, in that flexibility is a complementary, yet fundamental element to desired strength, fitness and mobility adaptations. However, this is only constant when due regard is given to safe and stable mobilisation of the body’s principal structures. Bodii strength, fitness and flexibility/mobility concepts have been built around this philosophy.
Flexibility/mobility, and continuing strength/stability adaptations around Hamstrings are best achieved through the increasingly incidental and simultaneous combination of the four vital inclusions.
1. Core engagement (incidental/deliberate): as this is the pivotal centre through which loads are referred, and upon which adaptations depend. Therefore, if Hamstrings tightness are an on-going issue, try to first strengthen and mobilise the structures and attachments of the primary and secondary core.
2. Deliberate activation of the lumbar curve: as the aspects of this inclusion are accepted as fundamental to co-ordinated Hamstrings/lumbar health.
3. Shoulder/scapula retraction: as the holistic attention to the integrity and inclusion of the spinal curves is paramount to overall postural strength, and the functional distribution of loads.
4. Hips and pelvis stability: as produced by the direct inclusion of the peripheral core muscles, ensuring stronger peripheral activation of a more stable hips and pelvis complex.
Any strategy to relieve Hamstrings flexibility/tightness issues should foster all of the above ideals, by producing the following adaptations:
1. Significantly advanced incidental inclusion of the primary core muscles, for greater absorption of impact/contact/load.
2. Increased relative strength in Hamstrings, and all aspects of mobility in the active lumbar curve.
3. Greater contractile range, endurance and flexibility/mobility in the entire posterior chain, and consisting Achilles tendon, calf, hamstrings, gluteals and Lumbar, Thoracic and Cervical curves.
4. Advanced and comprehensive flexibility/mobility at the Quadriceps/hip flexors overlap, through enhanced capacities towards hip extension.
5. Improved stability and inclusive strength of hips and pelvis during adduction, flexion, abduction and extension.
As these are extremely complicated biomechanical and physiological processes, individuals wanting to implement these strategies should realise that only a complete understanding of the involved methodology and specialised alternative strength, fitness and flexibility/mobility techniques will achieve the required strength, range, endurance objectives.