Today we’re going to be looking at improving your hamstring range of motion utilizing a ball.
Last week we began talking about this idea of answering the question, why are you stretching in the first place?
“Why are You Stretching?” Blog with transcript.
We use this concept of internal focus versus external focus, and the whole idea being that whenever I go into stretching, I very often take an internal focus, and an internal focus usually means I have increased muscle activity.
It actually makes stretching harder. Really what we want to focus on is why are you stretching in the first place? It’s usually to achieve a certain range of motion. What we’re going to look at today is one of the most common areas of the body that I get asked about. In fact, when it comes to stretching, the 2 areas that I’m asked the most about are the hamstrings and the hip flexors. In the health and fitness world, these are the mecca. Everyone is always interested in improving the hip flexor length, and a lot of people are interested in hamstrings as well.
Now there’s a lot of debate and discussion about, how long does anything need to be? We’re not getting into that right now because I’m not talking about, how flexible are you? I’m asking instead, what range of motion do you want to achieve and how can we most quickly get you there?
Now last week we said that external focus, so thinking about something outside the body, is often much better to achieve a range of motion than thinking internally. We’re going to test that today, show you how it applies to the hamstrings. What we’re going to do, and you’re going to do this with me because I don’t want to be alone. I’m going to get my leg up on this low bench.
I’m just going to relax into a more, what we call static stretch. Now a lot of people have given up on static stretching completely because a lot of research around static stretching shows that if you do this prior to some kind of explosive event or activity like sports, you’re actually weaker and more prone to injury. I talk about that in our courses but right now we’re just using this as an example.
Again, most people when they stretch, they get in this position. They go, I’d really like to go forward and touch my toes. That’s their goal but because they’ve told that stretching is supposed to feel a certain way, we tend to go internal. I’m here and again, most people that I’ve worked with, whenever they start stretching, they start immediately thinking about the muscle itself.
They’re thinking about, I feel it really down by my knees, not so much up in my hip. Then they actually begin to explore trying to figure out how to get a deeper stretch, more stretch. Now remember in our last video we said that thinking about the muscle increases its internal activity and in some cases that increases its resistance to lengthening. For me, right now, a comfortable range of motion would be about right there.
That’s probably about a 4 out of 10 on a stretch scale. I’m feeling it some in my hamstrings. I’m feeling some in my calves. I did a lot of leg work yesterday, so I’m feeling a little sore. Again, that’s my range of motion when we’re thinking internally.
What I want you to do now, is I want you to grab an object. Now I’m used to this blue ball. It could be anything that you could think about but now what I’m going to do is I’m going to get into this same position, same stretch, in essence but instead of focusing internally, all that I’m going to have to focus on mentally is taking this ball, setting it against my chest, and I want to touch the ball to my pants.
This sounds weird, but we want to think completely external to the body, so ball to my pants. What happens for me is a pretty significant increase in range of motion. The coolest part is, it’s about a 2 instead of a 5. It doesn’t hurt as much, it’s not as uncomfortable.
Again, I can just go back and forth into that. Now could I think about doing this a different way? Could I go to this shoulder and go, Eric, take the ball and touch that side of the pants. Absolutely. One of the things that we’ve learned from research is that going into any range of motion, taking different paths is often also very effective.
When it comes to increasing your forward bend range of motion, use something external. Your basic rules, again, are think about the object and think about moving the object to something outside your body, to your pants leg. Could I aim at the bench, touch the bench? Absolutely.
You have a lot of different options.
The goal here once again is to remove your thinking from inside your leg to things that are on the outside of your leg. Start also thinking about, how could I apply this same concept? How could I apply this same concept to things other than my hamstring because this whole idea of why are you stretching in the first place?
It’s usually to achieve a certain range of motion. That’s going to be accomplished a lot better thinking outside the body rather than inside the body. All right, guys, let’s summarize this, so you know what to do with it. One of the most common questions that we get actually in classes is even if I use a ball and improve my range of motion, when I’m doing my regular activities, I don’t have this here. You’re right, but it’s a concept.
The concept is learning to have a better range of motion by not internally focusing.
Now here’s how we actually fix this stuff in the real world with people. Once you understand how to use the ball and some kind of external focus, what I’m going to recommend is not this. In other words, don’t take the ball and go, Eric, touch the ball to your pants and hold for 30 seconds.
I don’t want you to actually do that.
We’re going to talk about 1 to 2 second stretches for the most part if you’re going to do that at all. What I would be doing is some small repetitions, touch the ball to the pants leg. Touch the ball to the pants leg. Look at what I’m doing. Every single time, I’m taking some kind of different path to get to the pants leg. I’m doing 1 to 2 second repetitions.
Normally what I ask people to do is somewhere between 15 and 20 of those. Then switch to the opposite side. Now at the end of this, once you’ve achieved some better range of motion, the last piece is on your last rep, go down. There’s my new-found range of motion.
Now all I want you to do is actually tighten your body. You’re going contract your musculature here.
Normally what I ask people to do is an isometric for the hamstring, pushing their heel down into the table or their shoe down into the table. Hold that for 15 to 20 seconds because one of the things we’d like for people to be able to do is strengthen in their new-found range of motion because that generally will make that range of motion a little bit stickier, so the next time you come back to the exercise, it’s there waiting for you.
There’s a basic summary of what to do. Again, take it really easy. If this is new for you, don’t overdo it. Think more about this as similar to the other mobility work that we do in Z-Health, only now adding in the single important factor of using the external focus to improve your range.
Give it a try. Let us know how it goes.