Tight hips and ham­strings? The prob­lem may be how you’re stand­ing

Runner's World (UK) - - Front Page -

RUN­NERS OFTEN as­sume that tight hips and ham­strings are sim­ply an oc­cu­pa­tional hazard, and that if they ever want to touch their toes again they’ll have to re­duce the mileage or spend hours on the yoga mat. But phys­io­ther­a­pist Trevor Rappa says that run­ning isn’t nec­es­sar­ily to blame – poor pos­ture is prob­a­bly at fault. And stretch­ing will only pro­vide tem­po­rary re­lief un­til the root cause is ad­dressed.

A lot of run­ners, and peo­ple in gen­eral, carry them­selves with what Rappa and oth­ers call ‘ex­tended pos­ture’. In this type of stance, a per­son car­ries his lower ribs in front of his body, his glutes jut out be­hind, and there is a big curve in the lower back (see right). It’s not just a bad look: this align­ment im­pairs the func­tion­ing of the di­aphragm.

‘Your di­aphragm should be your pri­mary mus­cle of res­pi­ra­tion,’ says high­per­for­mance coach Mike Robert­son. ‘If you get stuck in ex­tended pos­ture, the di­aphragm flat­tens out and can no longer work ef­fec­tively.’ When your di­aphragm isn’t prop­erly func­tion­ing, a cas­cade of prob­lems re­sults. Your brain, know­ing that the body has to breathe, re­cruits help from other mus­cles – such as your hip flex­ors and lower back mus­cles.

‘If the di­aphragm doesn’t work well, in­ef­fi­cien­cies will re­sult,’ says Jonathan Pierce, per­for­mance ther­a­pist to six-time world longjump cham­pion Brit­tney Reese and a con­sul­tant to the Bow­er­man Track Club in Ore­gon, US. When your hip flex­ors are tight from repet­i­tive use, cor­re­spond­ing ten­sion can be present in the di­aphragm. Tight hip flex­ors can also ex­tend the lum­bar spine, pull the pelvis down­ward and cause your glutes to stick out. Ex­perts call this an ‘an­te­rior pelvic tilt’. Robert­son ex­plains: ‘When your pelvis tips for­ward, it is lit­er­ally stretch­ing your ham­strings on the back

side, which can make them feel tight.’

But, wait, aren’t stretched-out ham­strings a good thing? Not if it’s your pelvis that’s do­ing the stretch­ing, says Robert­son. Work­ing to lengthen and elon­gate your ham­strings can be good – if your ham­strings are ac­tu­ally short­ened. How­ever, Robert­son says an an­te­rior pelvic align­ment is often putting ten­sion on your ham­strings and it needs to be fixed if you’re go­ing to get any last­ing re­lief. Stretch­ing your ham­strings in a down­ward-fac­ing-dog pose feels good as you’re do­ing it – but it won’t stop chronic tight­ness, he says.

Ex­perts say the real so­lu­tion starts with pos­ture cor­rec­tion. Be­ing con­scious of good pos­ture and work­ing to ad­just your stance through­out the day is im­por­tant. Robert­son also rec­om­mends a sim­ple breath­ing drill to ac­ti­vate your di­aphragm (see right) and ex­er­cises to strengthen your ham­strings (see p95). Mas­ter these and you’ll shut down those over­ac­tive hip flex­ors, re­store proper pos­ture and give your ham­strings long-term re­lief. Here’s the first step to stand­ing taller, breath­ing deeper and run­ning bet­ter.

BAD (EX­TENDED) POS­TURE HEAD Over toes LOWER RIBS/STERNUM For­ward of the body ABDOMINALS Stretched out LOWER BACK Has a dra­matic curve DI­APHRAGM Flat­tened and not ac­ti­vated GLUTES Pushed back and up PELVIS Slants down­ward at more than a 10- de­gree an­gle Elon­gated HAM­STRINGS This stance con­trib­utes to chronic ham­string tight­ness.

Adopt­ing this pos­ture will help release ten­sion on the ham­strings. PROPER POS­TURE HEAD In line with heels LOWER RIBS/STERNUM In line with chest ABDOMINALS No longer elon­gated LOWER BACK Slight curve DI­APHRAGM Ac­ti­vated, fully func­tional GLUTES Un­der pelvis PELVIS Neu­tral or point­ing down­ward slightly (less than 10 de­grees) HAM­STRINGS Nor­mal length

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