Strengthening the Hamstrings

strenthening the hamstringsThe last couple of months my personal practice has been all about the hamstrings and the rectus abdominis. Strengthening the hamstrings and shortening the rectus to be specific.

Interestingly I saw a blog post going around Facebook saying that yoga poses don’t strengthen the hamstrings. And for a while there have been numerous articles/studies on the efficacy of stretching. The good news is that there are some very smart people out there doing a yeoman’s job of bringing science and anatomy to yoga teachers.

There isn’t any bad news but I don’t understand the idea that yoga poses don’t strengthen the hamstrings. I think all standing poses done correctly should be strengthening the hamstrings, though obviously not the hamstrings alone.

Urdhva Danurasana, or wheel, especially in advanced variations such as dropping back and standing up, require serious hamstring strength and if you don’t have it before you learn those poses you will by the time you are able to do them. But as with everything I could be wrong.

Personally, long muscles and loose joints were an inheritance from parents that had no idea what to do with their own looseness, as evidenced by my father’s body breaking down in his final years and my Mother’s present bedridden existence.

Oddly enough having loose joints and long muscles (and a measure of natural strength) made me a perfect candidate for advanced yoga. Without the proper foundation for supporting my particular body type, my knees gave out over time and I had a succession of surgeries and a year and a half of physical therapy.

But that was over a decade ago and my knees are now quite sound, though the weakness of my hamstrings and the excessive length of my rectus abdominis have never been truly addressed.

Until now. About two months ago strengthening the hamstrings became a priority and I threw the rectus abdominis in for good measure. I have always needed to shorten that muscle and had never gone about doing it.

The video above, which had a voiceover describing the exercise that for some reason did not upload, is one of the exercises I have been playing with. This version came about by accident as I was fooling around. The idea of the exercise is to slide backwards until you have to work to stop the slide.

  1. Start in a forward bend with your hands on the floor and your feet on a blanket. Alternately you can use blocks for your hands.
  2. Do your best to keep your spine in a downward dog alignment resisting the urge to move the spine forward towards plank.
  3. Slide the legs back an inch at a time and stop.
  4. Go back until you can’t stop of sliding backwards and try to hold.
  5. Then slide yourself as far forward as you can back to the forward bend.
  6. Repeat 3-5 times.

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