Improve Your Neck, Improve Your Hamstrings – Episode 309

Hi everybody, Dr. Cobb of Z-Health. What we’re going to look at today is a 30 second neck exercise that can actually improve your hamstring flexibility.

Hi guys. One of the things that we talk about in our 9S certification, which is an advanced course, we talk about strength and suppleness. We actually have a lot of conversations around flexibility. Most of the athletes that we work with, I would say maybe 20% of them are really interested in being more flexible because their sport requires it, maybe they’re a martial artist or a gymnast, or dancers, or whatever.

A lot of other people are like, “Eh, I just want to be generally comfortable.” Regardless of where they fall in that spectrum, most people that we meet actually often complain about having tight hamstrings. I’m not going to get into the relative benefits of having stiffer versus less stiff musculature in this video because I don’t have time but what I can tell you definitively is that most people, when we do a little bit of hamstring work often move better as a result and as Z-Health practitioners we’re about moving better.

What I want to do today is show you a very quick and relatively unusual way to improve hamstring flexibility. One of the reasons that I want to show this to you is to remind you once again of all the stuff that we talk about with the human nervous system but that it has three primary things that happen; it gets input, it decides what that input means, and then it creates an output.

In this particular case we’re actually going to look at input from the upper cervical spine and how that can change output in the rest of the body.

This is a very, very powerful exercise and it’s kind of unusual because most people when they think, oh man, my legs are really tight. I went out for a run, my hamstrings are tight the next day. Most of us think, okay, I need to mobilize them, maybe I need to… If you’ve been through some of our certifications maybe you need to do some nerve work or something to get them to relax. There’s another way to go about it that I ran into years ago in a research study and I thought, that’s awesome, it’s really interesting so I wanted to share that with you today.

If we do some anatomical studies of the upper neck, right below the skull, there’s a group of muscles called the suboccipital muscles. You don’t have to know that name but one of those muscles is very interesting because in a lot of people, that muscle actually has a bridge where it attaches to what’s called a dura which is the covering of the brain and spinal cord.

The end of that story is that whenever we do stuff to your upper neck we are probably physically impacting to some degree on the covering of your brain, covering of your spinal cord, and that has some pretty big ramifications. Here’s how this whole thing is going to work, we’re going to actually test your hamstring flexibility and then we’re going to do a little bit of work in your upper neck utilizing our eyes and some small mobility drills, and then we’re going to reassess your hamstrings and see if we can create some change for you.

Let’s start off with a little bit of a hamstring test. You can do this in whatever way you prefer, I’m going to do it single leg.

I’m just going to turn, face a bench or a chair, I’m going to put my leg up, I’m going to get nice and tall and I’m just going to lean over and what I want you to do is I want you to make sure that you’re nice and supported if you need to. I want you to do maybe five or six little repetitions where you’re just warming the hamstring up because in most cases when we are doing this kind of work and we want to reassess to see if we created a real change, we want to have warmed the area up previously. Coming in here, seeing how I feel, I’m getting an idea of my general flexibility for today.

Pretty comfortable. If my hips are squared up, I’m facing, I can fairly comfortably get down, grab just past the big toe there. Now that you have an idea of where your hamstrings currently are what I want you to do is either stand or sit comfortably and you’re going to take your hands, your fingers like this and you’re going to come to the back of your skull.

I want you to find the hard part of the bone of the skull and I want you to slide just underneath that into the softer part. Hopefully it’s softer but this is where those muscles live so you should be able to identify muscle, bone, muscle bone. We want to get into the muscular part. My fingers are here, they’re just underneath the skull and I want you to rub that area a little bit and I want you to feel for tension.

You kind of work your way out toward your ears and just get an idea of how tight that upper cervical spine area is. The main thing we want to realize is that we’re going to do some exercises and that area should get softer. If it gets softer we should see an improvement in the hamstring flexibility unless you’re already from planet Gumby in which case you may not notice this. But for the rest of us this can be really powerful. Now that you have an idea of how tight that area is let’s go over the exercise.

The first thing that we’re going to do is we’re going to tuck our chin and then bring our heads forward. You want to maintain that tucked chin because as you come down you should feel a little stretch right where your fingers just were. I’m going to keep my head up because I want you to see what I’m going to do. I’m going to tuck my chin, bring my head down, and I’m going to hold it in that position, and once it’s in that position I’m actually going to move my eyes. I’m going to move my eyes up and down.

Up and down, up and down while I’m maintaining the tension in my neck. I want you to do that for about ten reps. I’m going to go ahead and do that myself. Tuck my chin, flex, eyes up and down, and in most cases, what you should feel is as your eyes come down it increases the stretch in the back of your neck. That’s because your eyes and your muscles are connected. Once you’ve done that I want you to come back up and I want you to recheck the back of your neck.

If it is softer what I want you to do is I want you to retest your hamstring. I’m going to come in here, again, I’ll warm up for just maybe one or two reps and then I’m going to reach and for me I got a nice little improvement in my hamstring flexibility. That’s step one. Step two is rather than moving our eyes we’re going to actually do this; we’re going to tuck the chin, tilt the whole neck forward, take our eyes down, hold all that in position, and we’re going to do these small little nods.

As we’re doing this nodding motion you should feel this little pulsing sensation of stretch in the base of your skull. Do about ten repetitions of that and then we’ll recheck your hamstring one more time so I’m going to do the same thing. Tuck the chin, head down, eyes down, small little nods, and you can see that I’m tilting my head a little bit just to increase a little bit of mobilization on different sides. Retest, how does that feel compared to what happened with my eyes and then I’ll come back, warm up, and retest again.

In each case, some of you may find that moving your eyes gives you a better result, some of you may find that moving your head gives you a better result, and another third of you may get a better result from the combination of both. Why I believe this is so neat is it is a very elegant exploration of the fact that what we do in one part of the body often has large ramifications in the rest of the body.

If this didn’t change anything for you that doesn’t mean anything bad or good, it just means that for you this exercise is unimportant related to your hamstring flexibility but what I found is probably 80% of people I teach this to go, “Wow. That’s amazing. My hamstrings are better, I feel looser, and I got that results without having to do anything to my hamstrings themselves.”

All right guys, that’s it, if you got a good result from this upper neck mobilization improving your hamstring flexibility, my recommendation is do this exercise once or twice a day, and as soon as you’ve done the exercise and things are feeling a little looser, take a quick walk. Two minutes, three minutes, five minutes, that will help cement the change, make your whole body feel better.

If you have questions about this please let us know.

Hope you enjoyed this little exploration of how input from one part of the body can change output throughout the body.

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