Why Stretching Your Hamstrings is Like Setting Your Face on Fire (OK, Not Really..)

Maybe that title is a bit of an overstatement.  But, if you know me, you know I'm not a big believer in stretching your hamstrings (in fact, it's a point I've expanded upon here and here).

Now, I know what you're saying:

 The original facepalm?

The original facepalm?

  • "But, aren't we supposed to stretch?"
  • "But it feels sooooo good!" (So does scratching a mosquito bite.  But are you supposed to? Facepalm.)
  • "How will I ever be a supple leopard if I can't touch my toes?"

As anyone who's actually tight can tell you - and let's qualify that by saying that someone that can't bend over and touch their toes - stretching never helps...unless the goal of stretching is to make the "tight" people feel bad about themselves.  (<----I used to be one of them)

Why doesn't stretching work?  Because most of the time, the hamstrings are not "tight"....if anything, they're already as long as they can possibly get!  I'd even go so far to say that if some people stopped stretching their hamstrings, there would probably be less lower back pain.

Yeah.....I went there.

Rather than try to explain in boring ol' words, here's a great video I came across a few weeks ago.  It does a phenomenal job explaining the function of the hamstrings, as well as giving a glimpse into the PRI (Postural Restoration Institute) camp:

Boom.

So we know that A) hamstrings hold us up, B) it's better to be too tight than too flexible, and C) having a skeleton in your video automatically makes you sound smarter (and rightfully so).  I've sent this video to a few of my clients and they've had their minds blown.  But, the most common response I've received from overly flexible clients is, "But stretching my hamstrings makes my lower back feel better."  So let's explore why that might be the case.

 Dat tilt doe..

Dat tilt doe..

Usually, when someone that has super long hamstrings complains of back pain, it's usually because they've spent too much time in extension (aka dat ghetto bootay).  Now, being an offender myself, I've written before about how deadlifting helps my own back because it takes me out of extension and even puts me in the opposite position (flexion).  And, it's pretty funny the lifting 500 pounds would make my back feel better, but from a science standpoint, it all makes sense.

In the same way, "stretching the hamstrings" helps alleviate back pain.  Whenever someone stretches their hamstrings, they're usually going into flexion, which is the exact opposite spine position that's causing them pain.  It's no surprise that the act of stretching their hamstrings is causing them relief....but there's definitely a better way.

If you're someone that can palm the floor, stretching the hamstrings is merely a band-aid to help your back feel better, and it doesn't solve the underlying issue.  More core, more glutes, and more hamstrings is what you need.  You can accomplish that anyway you wish (cough coughmoredeadliftscough cough), as long as you realize that stretching isn't always the answer.