When Tight Hamstrings Aren’t What They Seem

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“I’d like you to reach down and touch your toes, however you can make that happen.”

She folded over, reaching her fingers slowly downward. Eventually she reached the floor, but only because she had bent her knees to a great depth in order to do so.

As she returned to standing, I asked her, “was that hard to do?” She nodded her head.

As a high school golfer, coming off two years of solid State meet performances, she was trying to ever-improve her technique, peak her fitness for the game, and remove any hurdles that stood in the way of her and ‘best golfer’ status.

I had been brought in to work with this athlete on what appeared to be a significant flexibility issue. She and her parents were concerned that her “tight hamstrings” may be limiting her performance in golf tournaments. I didn’t know for sure if tight hamstrings were limiting her golf game, but everyone wanted her hamstrings to be less “tight” and her overall muscular strength to increase, so we got started with an assessment to gather data about where she was at and where we needed to go from here.

Where are the areas for opportunity? Where are the limiters and how can we address them?

Her torso was weak in some of the assessments and she did compensate into her low back during a few of our bracing tests for her torso control. It was also obvious that her hamstrings were shorter than necessary if she wanted to touch her toes with straight legs. I still wasn’t certain the hamstring tightness was a problem for her golf game, but nonetheless, we got to work on that and the other findings from her assessment.

In the first four weeks, we did not do any passive or active stretching of her hamstrings. 

Spoiler alert: Here is what she looked like doing the ‘please touch your toes’ test four weeks after we started working together. 

Photo Dec 02, 6 31 24 PM

Sometimes, A Flexibility Issue Is Actually A Stability Issue

Your body needs proximal stability so it can have distal mobility. Meaning: you must have a stable base so you can create mobility somewhere else. And if you cannot create stability, you’ll have to create it elsewhere, which may limit mobility or power output.

In addition to fully body strength work, we spent the next four weeks working on torso muscle function, organization, and strength. We did drills that improved her neural drive to the muscles of her torso. We went through exercises that required her to brace her core isometrically, and do things that required her core to work in harmony with movements of other parts of her body so that her brain could begin to create a movement organization that actually worked for her.

We hadn’t done the toe-touch test since day one.

“Ok, ready? Let’s redo your assessment, including touching your toes.”

She folded, further, further still, legs still straight. Her fingers touched the floor and the bend in her legs looked nothing like how they’d looked that first time. She straightened up, her surprised face spreading out into a huge grin.

As a reminder, before photo:

Photo Dec 04, 4 21 17 PM

 

Four weeks later, no stretching has been done:

Photo Dec 02, 6 31 24 PM

She and her parents wanted her to get better at her flexibility and her strength. The first four weeks of our program to do this showed great progress. And it continued on from there.

Sometimes what looks like a flexibility issue is actually a control or stability issue. 

This is why I do movement assessments with all of my clients, whether online or in-person. It’s why I felt so strongly about creating and including a custom assessment tool in The Unbreakable Body.

I hope you enjoyed this case study and can use it to expand your curiosity for exploring your own areas of opportunity with how your body feels and moves and performs!

3 thoughts on “When Tight Hamstrings Aren’t What They Seem

  1. Jim says:

    It sure is a shame that your Unbreakable Body site is closed to new members. I bet there are people standing in line to give you money. I am.

  2. Sylvia says:

    Thanks! It’s really helpful to know what an important part our brain plays in our overall physical ability.

  3. Ryan Van Der Linden says:

    Wow I had no idea those kinds of concepts were even at play.

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