Having good hamstring length is important for all athletic endeavors and to comfortably do regular every day activities; to bend over to tie your shoes you will need elongated hamstrings. Without lengthened hamstrings, undue stress and strain may occur in the back, hips and knees.
Commonly, people know static stretches to build passive hamstring length. An example of static hamstring stretching would include lying your back while your instructor holds your leg in the air.
This photo illustrates a static stretch for the hamstrings using a wall to support the leg rather than a person
Static stretching will encourage the muscles to relax in order to create elongation, however, because the stretch is done passively, it may create an imbalance with the opposing muscle groups, make the muscle less sensitive to neural messages sent to the it by the brain, which diminishes its’ ability to generate force, and reduce blood flow in the stretched muscle. Therefore, static stretching is not considered a wise way to stretch prior to strenuous activity; a static stretch should only be held for 6-30 seconds, and should be done only preceding a gentle activity.
A dynamic hamstring stretch, conversely, involves actively taking the muscle in and out of a stretch. Since good flexibility is specific to body position and speed, a dynamic hamstring stretch will lengthen the muscle, but also prepare it for quick, ballistic and/or explosive activity. Consider when a soccer player kicks a ball or a martial artist kicks an opponent, he or she requires long muscles that can respond quickly in a variety of positions. In addition, since dynamic stretching increases blood flow to the muscles, it is an ideal way of stretching to prepare the muscles to be able to lengthen during a variety of situations- from playing sports and to doing other daily activities as gardening or picking up heavy objects. Training your hamstrings to stretch dynamically can greatly diminish the risk of tears and other injuries.
There are numerous exercises on the pilates reformer that can be used to dynamically lengthen the hamstrings. Here are three great exercises that can help you create long, strong and responsive hamstrings.
Feet in straps:
The back is stable against the carriage using the abdominal muscles, and all the muscles of the legs are active (gluts, hamstrings and quadriceps) to maintain the extension of the knees and to create resistance against the straps. When the legs are brought towards the body, the hamstrings are elongated, but the opposing muscle groups are active and the spine and pelvis are stable. This exercise begins slowly and can progress to a faster pace (still with control), 8-10 times.
During elephant, the gluts and hamstrings actively work to press the carriage out, simultaneously, the spine is supported in a neutral position. Then, the carriage is pulled in by using the hip flexor muscles. Notice that the upper body remains completely stable while the movement occurs at the hip joint, as if it were a hinge. This exercise begins slowly and may progress to a quicker pace (still with control), 8-10 times.
Front Splits standing on the floor:
In this exercise, the front leg is straightening to push the carriage out and bending to pull the carriage back in. The quadriceps are working to straighten the knee creating a hamstring stretch, then the hamstrings are working to pull the carriage back in. This exercise begins slowly and can progress to a quicker pace (still with control), 5-8 times.
All of these pilates exercises should be executed under the guidance of a certified pilates instructor.