Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Improving a Hamstring Stretch

I have continued playing around with stretching and other techniques trying to get looser and more balanced in my running. After having a great track workout two weeks ago running 5 X 1 mile my left leg went wobbly again. It was back to rotating in and that made running and walking uncomfortable for a week. I couldn't get it aligned right no matter what I tried. I still ran but that leg was not balancing correctly. A week later at the track we had an all out mile. I couldn't run correctly and only ran about 5:55 and it wasn't fun. The week before I had done 5 repeat miles in 6:00. Something was amiss.

That night I used my T-Roller to work on my muscles because it was hard to sleep. I noticed a lot of tightness on the inside hamstring down near the knee. I knew that in the past this muscle would get tight and pull things out of alignment. I took a hard ball and used it to massage deep into that muscle. That seemed to loosen things up for a change.

I had been doing resistance stretching on the hamstrings every day, but when I do the self-stretching my knee is pulled close to my chest and it seems to work more on the upper hamstrings. It looks like what Steve is doing at about the 5:58 mark in this video.

That is a good stretch but it was not doing the same thing as when I went to get stretched by Janet, a trained resistance stretcher. When she did similar stretches my leg was held further out about 90 degrees from the other leg with the knee pointing straight up. When I stretched in this position I recalled how I felt the muscles getting stretched at the lower end, toward the knee, of my hamstring and it felt good as I never had found a stretch that worked those tight muscles. I had to figure out a way to stretch out the lower hamstrings.

I think I found a workable solution for now. A year or two ago I bought a stretching tool called the Hamstretch. I hoped it would help me get my legs positioned to give me the good stretch I would get in my hamstring when a therapist would stretch me. It never seemed to work right because I think I only used it to do static stretches and it has just been sitting around unused.

I tried using it and positioning the bands so I could push down and resist the stretch as I used the hamstretch to pull up my foot and lower leg. I can use one hand to hold me knee in position and the other hand to pull on the side bars. It seems to work. I have been getting a much better stretch in my hamstrings using the Hamstretch to keep my knee further away from my chest. It has been loosening up my hamstring even more and I think that is my my hip is loosening up more and not being so stiff and tight. Here is the Hamstretch device.

I put it to the test on Sunday by running a 5k road race in Manchester. I didn't finally decide to race until race morning. I was feeling a bit lethargic but my left hip loosened up while running and it was the best my hip has felt in a race all year. I ended up running 18:59. It was the first time I had been under 19 minutes since last Thanksgiving day. I wasn't feeling real competitive but ran it at a pretty constant effort, although I slowed in the last mile. I hit 1 mile in 5:45, two miles in 11:50, and I had visions of going faster than my final time but then we hit a long straightaway with a cold headwind. It never seemed to end. I had run by myself from mile 1 to mile 2. At mile two I was 20-30 yards behind a teammate that eventually finished in 18:25. But then a pack that had stayed behind me started catching up and I got passed by some runners to which I had no competitive response. I was not sharp and had no kick except enough to just make sure I got under 19:00. I am pleased with the time and hope to improve on it soon. It was nice not to have my hip jamming up for a change.

Here is a partner hamstring resistance stretch that Janet sent my way. You can see Bob Cooley, the author or "The Genius of Flexibility" getting stretched. If you know someone who is good with muscles you could try the stretch like this. My wife prefers that I use the Hamstretch. His knee is closer to his chest in this stretch than I use with the Hamstretch.


Steve W said...

Good race on Sunday. Although you may not think you're progressing as quickly as you'd like, you are getting faster. I see it every week.

I know exactly what you mean about the wind on Sunday...at times brutal.
Nice job!

Jim Hansen said...

Thanks Steve,
I still have a long way to go but I think I can give you a good race again someday in the future!