By Barbara Wintroub, Director Retrofit Pilates www.retrofitpilates.com
What muscle group causes the most trouble for athletes like us pickleball players? – Hamstrings!
The Hamstring muscle group consists of three muscles attachedHamstrings from your sitting bones to the back of your knees on both sides of your lower thigh bone (femur). Two of the muscles attach on the inside of your lower leg and one attaches on the outside of your lower leg. See illustration right.
Everybody complains of tight hamstrings no matter how much we seem to stretch them. Most of us don’t stretch them at all. Here are a few things you need to know.
Tight hamstrings can come from prolonged sitting (sounds like all of us), not stretching before physical activity (sound familiar?), over-use (hello, pickleball), lack of glute strength (buns of mush instead of buns of steel) and muscle imbalance because of using mostly the quads (the front of your thighs). The ratio between front and back muscles should be 60 to 40. How many of us are at that ideal ratio??!! Weak but tight hamstrings can create pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing radiating pain down the back of your hip and leg and lead to lower back problems. (For more detailed information, Google ‘hamstrings’. Just be careful doing the exercises on those web sites).
So now you’re ready to work on those hamstrings. First, determine how much time you have to put into your hamstring program. If you have only limited time available, here are a few exercises to strengthen and stretch your hamstrings without gym equipment.
fitness position 1
Sit toward the front of a stable chair. Extend your right leg in front of you, placing your heel on the floor, toes pointed toward the ceiling. Pretend you’re pulling your heel back to the chair, firing your hamstrings with an isometric contraction (no movement). Hold for a count of 10 while breathing out. Turn your toes and leg to the right and pull for a count of 10. Turn your toes and leg to the left, pull for a count of 10. That is one set. Repeat the set 3 times.
Now stretch the hamstrings by pointing the toes toward the ceiling, sittingfitness position 2 up very straight, flatten your back and bring your chest toward your knee. Hold for a count of 10. Turn your leg and toes to the right and follow the same instructions above for the stretch. Finally, turn your toes and leg to the left and follow the stretching instructions.
Repeat all exercises on left leg.
fitness position 3
Now let’s turn our attention to those mushy buns. The exercises are called ‘bridges’. Lay supine (on your back with knees bent, feet flat) on your bed. Slowly lift your buns off the bed and squeeze a pretend 100 dollar bill between them. Hold in this plank position for a count of 5 before releasing and doing the exercise again. Do this exercise 10 times or to exhaustion, whichever comes first.
Next put the bottoms of your feet together, knees apart. Lift your buns off the ground holding tight to that pretend fitness position 4100 dollar bill. As above, hold in this position for a count of 5 before releasing and doing the exercise again. Repeat 10 times or to exhaustion, whichever comes first.
These exercises are easy to do, should not hurt your back and could give you those steel buns.
If you have time for a slightly longer exercise program, here is another set of hamstring strengthen-and-stretch exercises for the serious-minded.
fitness position 5
To strengthen, lay down on the floor with your feet on your bed, knees slightly bent. Lift your buns off the floor, hold for a count of 10, then slowly lower buns back to the floor. This exercise worksfitness position 6 buns and hamstrings.
If this is too easy, then place one foot on the bed and the other foot in the air. Repeat this exercise until pooped.
Now for the stretch. Find a wall space, get on the floor with both legs raised on the wall, buns on the fitness position 7floor. As you are stretching your hamstrings, you can open your legs, slowly stretching inner thighs. Hold for 5 to 8 minutes or longer if you wish, until you hamstrings have relaxed.