CALLING ALL STIFF AND ACHEY PEOPLE WITH THE BREAKING STRAIN OF A KIT KAT - THIS ONE IS FOR YOU! Can't touch your toes? Experience a truly horrid pain when you try and stretch those hammys? Fear not - Chasing Lobsters is here to help!
First and foremost, I apologise for my absence - after a month of being a literary sloth, I have finally returned to the ‘typewriter’ and am steering myself back on track, remembering:
Today we introduce phase one in tackling something many of you have requested guidance on; pesky hamstrings and your ‘bendability’.
Flexibility has always been an uphill battle for me - I was the girl in the dance class who struggled to reach her toes whilst everyone else had their nose on the floor (still cuts me deep!). Well a few weeks ago I decided to start practicing what I preach, address my inflexibility in a safe and functional way and chase some dreams. Over the next couple of blog posts I am going to show some of my favourite moves to improve flexibility in the backs of the legs - methods that have enabled my progress so far, as seen above. Whilst I recommend a full body programme for suppleness, for this episode and the next we're focussing on safe and effective ways to tackle the hamstring and calf muscles.
Unfortunately, super stiff folk like myself often are fighting two battles; not only the tension within the muscle itself, but also tension within the sciatic nerve – ‘neural tension’. If when stretching the hamstrings you experience a sharp (read sickening) pain that extends beyond the knee, often into the foot and sometimes with pins and needles too - firstly, I feel you, and secondly, this is exactly where you need to be! Addressing this neural tension can be the first step to making progress with your hamstring stretches and flexibility. How? Nerve flossing. Yep, you read right - flossing your nerves! Below are simple exercises I would recommend performing daily ideally, but certainly before ANY lower limb stretching sequence! Start with these and you'll be surprised at how much more you can do with the actual hamstring stretches. Please note - do not 'push through' pain that persists or worsens and consult a registered practitioner should you have any concerns regarding your symptoms.
NERVE FLOSS 1 - FLOSS
Sit up straight, shoulders back and down, spine neutral. Without compromising the arch in your lower back, tuck your chin to your chest, arch the upper back, and tuck your heel under the chair towards your bottom. Then reverse it; straighten the leg in front of you whilst tipping the head back to a comfortable point. Repeat 15 times each leg or until the 'pulling' sensation eases.
NERVE FLOSS 2 - TENSION
A more intense version of the previous exercise. As you straighten your leg, tuck the chin and bend the upper back slightly. This will apply tension to the sciatic nerve. Reverse this so your head is dropped back and foot tucked under - this will 'slacken' the nerve. Repeat 15 times each leg or until the 'pulling' sensation eases. It's especially important in this exercise not to allow yourself to bend forward at the waist as this can put stress on the discs in your lower back. Ensure you maintain that low back (lumbar spine) curve at all times.
NERVE FLOSS 3 - CROSS FLOSS
With your left leg straight, left heel raised on a step or bench, toe pointing up, rotate the right side of your pelvis towards your left inside thigh, keeping the legs straight. Keep the toe raised to the sky at all times - don't let it roll out to the side. If sciatic tension is present, you'll feel a pull down the left leg as you rotate inwards. The twist comes entirely from the pelvis and hips, it is not a twist of the upper body! Repeat 20 times each side or until the 'pulling' sensation eases.
The aim of all of these exercises is to desensitise the sciatic nerve slightly. This will enable a more comfortable and therefore deeper muscular stretch of the hamstrings afterwards. Stay tuned into Chasing Lobsters posts as i'll be uploading a series of safe and effective hamstring stretches next week. For now though, get flossing daily and tackle that nasty neural tension!
N.B: It's worth noting that biomechanical issues within the spine and pelvis can contribute to neural tension and hamstring tone, in which case, consulting a qualified practitioner such as a chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist is advisable.