As I mentioned in this post, my challenge for this winter is to pay more attention to stretching and through that, increase my flexibility. One day when I trained with someone who was just incredibly flexible and strong, I realized that I'm not as flexible as I thought I was. It was a total lightbulb moment: It's time to get to work!
My lack of flexibility is one thing that is holding me back from doing some of the fun stuff, like pistols or L-sits. The reason: My hamstrings are so tight that I can't hold my legs extended in the pistol or l-sit position.
With no doubt, I also need a ton of strength to be able to do those two things, but flexibility is one piece of the puzzle.
My weakest spot is definitely my hamstrings. I have run a lot in the past 10 years (and still do time to time), so my hamstrings have become tight. That's why hamstrings are in my main focus during this challenge.
Winter Stretching Challenge
Ten days ago I started my flexibility challenge. In this challenge, I take 30 minutes every night to stretch, and I try to do it as consistently as I can throughout the month of February (and the last week of January).
Of course, there is only so much that you can achieve in about 35 days, but let the end of February be the first milestone. Besides, they say that it takes about 4 weeks to create a habit, so little bit over a month should make a great start for a new habit!
After posting about my challenge last week, I got questions about my stretching routine. In today's post, I share five of my favorite hamstring stretches that I do every night to increase flexibility. Next week, I'll be back with stretches for glutes, quads and calves.
Five Stretches for Hamstrings
Standing Toe Reach
Stand up, one leg in front of the other one. The length of your stance depends on your flexibility. The goal is to keep the front leg straight, so the more flexible you are, the shorter the stance.
Put the heel of the front leg down, point the toes up and try to reach the toes. The back leg can be bent. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
Hamstring Stretch by a Tree or Wall
Even though this one may look like your usual calf stretch, it's actually more than that. You get a deep hamstring stretch when you do this one right.
Stand about 4-5 feet away from a tree trunk or wall. Put one leg against the wall, toes pointing up. Walk your hands down to about your shoulder level and then, think about pushing your butt up and out. You should feel the stretch in the back leg.
Your back will be a little arched, but that's normal and that's exactly what you need to do to feel the stretch. You can try rounding the back and you feel how the tension in your hamstrings releases. That's not what you want to do. So, stick the butt out and up – that's where you are stretching the hamstrings.
Downward Facing Dog
This yoga pose is excellent for stretching the hamstrings. Think holding your legs straight and pushing through the floor with your hands.
Again, the better flexibility, the shorter the distance between the arms and legs. If you are less flexible, you will need to have longer distance between the legs and arms. Keep the distance as long as you need to get the legs straight.
This exercise stretches also the lower back.
Seated Toe Reach
Sit down and spread your legs, while keeping the back of the knees in contact with the ground. Then lean forward and try to grab your toes. If toes are too far, grab the shins. If shins are too far, grab the knees – whatever is your best today!
This exercise stretches also inner thighs and lower back.
Lying Hamstring Stretch
Lie down on your back, then lift up one leg and grab your toe, ankle or back of the knee. Again, the more flexible you are, the further you can reach. It would be great if you could hold the knee extended, but if you are not very flexible, you will feel the stretch even if your knee is bent.
You can also use a resistance band or even a simple towel to help you. Simply wrap it around your toes and pull the leg closer like that.
Good flexibility is important for many reasons. Being flexible means better mobility, greater range of motion and less pains and aches in the future. Plus, you really need some flexibility for pistols! That's my main goal now, but of course, all the other reasons are important as well.
Here are some of the stretches that I do every night to improve my flexibility and to work on those hamstrings that have become tight from running and not stretching enough.
Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds, but don't overdo it. You should feel the stretch for sure, but you are by no means supposed to be in pain. Otherwise you end up with opposite effect – you create microdamages into your muscles and instead of loosening up, you get sore.
I share some more stretches next week – if improving our flexibility is your goal too, stay tuned!