We’re lucky enough to have yet another “Muscle Of The Month” guest post by our very own Colleen Bruce! Read on, and learn about how to treat your hamstrings right:
Seeing as this month’s skill is the L-Sit, I thought it might be appropriate to write about one of the major muscle groups that can limit your success in achieving a better L-Sit – the hamstrings. The hamstrings are actually made up of three distinct muscles: biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus.
Biceps femoris (roughly meaning 2 heads of the femur/thigh bone) has two parts –one head originates off your ischial tuberosity (that bony part of your pelvis typically referred to as your “sits bones”, located around the bottom of your butt cheek) and the other head originates off the back part of your femur. This muscle attaches onto the head of your fibula (the top part of the outer or lateral bone in your lower leg). You can actually reach behind your knee and feel this ropey tendon as you move your hand toward the outside of your knee.
Semimembranosus and semitendinosus also both originate from the ischial tuberosity but these 2 muscles attach onto the upper part of the tibia (the inner or medial bone of your lower leg) –you can also feel these tendons by feeling the back, medial part of your knee.
Because all three of these muscles cross the hip and the knee, they affect actions at both joints –they help extend or straighten at the hip and they also help flex or bend the leg at the knee. In everyday activity, we don’t often have to perform both of these movements at the same time –if you think about it, as we flex your hips, we also tend to flex at the knee or, conversely, as we extend through the hips, we also extend at the knee. This allows our muscles (quads and hams) to function at an optimal length. Muscles tend to work best in the middle of their range –and not so well at the extremes (super short or super long). In addition, know that your Quads (muscles on the front of your thigh) work with your hams (but with the opposite function) to help control the movement at your hips and knees –as one group is contracting, the other is lengthening to provide smooth, unhindered movement (hopefully!).
One of the factors that make an L-Sit difficult is simply the position –we are asking your hams to lengthen over both joints and your quads to contract or shorten at both the knee and the hip, putting both sets of muscles near the end of their ranges (hams really long and quads super short/contracted). If your hamstrings are tight, your quads have to work extra hard to fight against the tension in your hams –which is why your quads might feel like they’re seizing up during your L-Sit AND why it’s easier to hold a tuck position –shorter lever and better working length for your muscles!! This inability of your hams to lengthen over both joints simultaneously is known as passive insufficiency whereas the inability of your quads to contract with the hips flexed and knees straight is known as an active insufficiency. Passive and active insufficiencies only apply to muscles that cross 2 joints (other examples being the biceps and triceps for your shoulders and elbows).
To stretch those hammies, you have several options. If they are really tight, even sitting right up against a wall, with your legs straight out in front of you can be a good starting point. Stay there until you can no longer feel a stretch.
Contract-relax style stretching is also very effective for hamstrings. Lift one leg up into the air, knee straight and push down towards the ground (not full force) against an immoveable resistance for 6-10secs (so either against a wall/doorway, a friend, a rope that you’re holding etc), relax for 1-2 sec then try to increase your stretch. Continue until you stop seeing improvements in range.
Flossing your hams with a band or sitting on top of a lacrosse ball (placed by your ischial tuberosity) and slowly extending and flexing your knee will also help release the tissue.
And remember that even though hamstring length isn’t the only factor that might be limiting your performance on the L-Sit, it will definitely help those poor Quads by giving them a little bit of breathing room!
As a random little tidbit, the hamstrings were given their name because these were the tendons that butchers used to use to hang pig carcasses (i.e. ham/pig string).
- By Colleen Bruce
**Colleen is an RMT with Koru Natural Health Centre. For more information on how to keep your body limber, or for an amazing massage treatment, contact Colleen at www.korumassage.webs.com**
Classes and Intro on Saturday, June 16th will be cancelled because we are hosting a CrossFit Gymnastics Trainer course all weekend. Keep your eyes open for an outdoor workout or a workout you can do at home. Make sure to get your classes in before Saturday.
Buy In – Tabata L-sit
Then limber up for cleans and front squats by spending a few minutes stretching out: calf/ankles, bottom of a squat, front rack position stretch with rubber band.
WOD – EMOTM for 20 minutes:
Clean + 2 Front Squats
* All cleans are received in a squat, not powers allowed!
* Increasing weight through the workout. You are welcome to stay at the same weight for a few rounds before moving up.
* Starting your first round, no lower that 50% of your 1RM
Cash Out – Annie (15 min. time cap)
50-40-30-20-10 Double unders and situps
* Scale as needed