Tight Hamstrings? Add an inch to Your Hamstring Stretch in 60 Seconds!

I know this title sounds sensationalistic, but it’s real – no joke. Bear with me, as it will take me longer to explain the process, than it will to get results! I’m a little ashamed to say it, but static stretching has always felt like an inconvenience to me. Maybe that’s because it never felt like time well spent, and I didn’t see much in the way of results. 

That all change my first year of medical school, where I was introduced to an interesting and massively effective way to stretch a muscle – a way that takes just minutes, but yields immediate, visible results.  It’s called Muscle Energy Stretching, and it’s a game changer and can be used with most muscle groups, at home, non-partner assisted. Applying this technique will literally increase stretching range of motion by inches in a matter of minutes or less, and this time the gains will be easier to keep! 

Here’s the muscle energy stretching technique in 5 steps (using the hamstrings as an example):

• Set-up looks identical to a static stretch. Sit on the floor with one leg straight or prop your foot on an elevated surface.
• Reach towards your toes (on the straight-legged side) as usual, until the hamstring starts to get tight.
• I
nstead of just holding this position as you would in static stretching, gently dig your heel into the floor while you are stretching, creating a nice contraction in your hamstring muscle.
• Hold this gentle contraction, and position, for about 5-10 seconds, then relax, without backing off on the position. Then gently reach further and you’ll notice that you can now stretch a bit further.
• Repeat this sequence 3-5 times, noticing that you will likely be able to stretch an inch further, or more,  than when you started! Once complete, stretch the other hamstring in the same manner. 

You’ll be amazed at the difference you see. This technique will make your stretching feel far more productive, not to mention convenient. To make it even better, this same principle can be used with essentially any muscle group: quads, calves, adductors, biceps. Try creating an effective pec stretch by bracing your arm against a door frame and turning away until the stretch sets in, then use the contraction-relaxation cycle as it was explained above. 

All you have to do is find a stretched position for the muscle of interest and create a subtle isometric contraction (followed by relaxation) for a few cycles at 5-10 seconds each. 

Why would such small adjustment make such a massive difference? (the simple answer)

When we stretch a muscle as far as it can go and feel it get tight, it’s not actually because the muscle is about to tear. Basically, the muscle is telling your brain, “we’re not familiar with being in such a stretched position, and it could put is in danger, so let’s contract against the stretch to protect ourselves.” This is probably why static stretching isn’t the most efficient type of stretching. By constantly stretching into your end range, your muscle and nervous system are working against you. This isn’t the case for muscle energy stretching. Every muscle is made up of units. When you use muscle energy stretching and create a 5-10 second contraction, you are temporarily fatiguing some of the units that make up the muscle and produce contractions. So when you relax, fewer muscle units will be fighting against your stretch for a moment and you’ll be able to stretch a little bit further. Additionally, creating these contractions helps to familiarize your nervous system with the stretched muscle length. Basically, your muscle and nervous system are learning that they don’t need to get defensive so quickly and can relax, thereby lengthening the muscle. 

After I learned this technique, I never static stretch anymore as it takes longer and is less effective. Try muscle energy stretching and you’ll see you will save time and make greater gains in flexibility. I doubt you’ll go back!

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About the Author: Brett Deters

Brett is a second-year medical school student who has been training and living a fit lifestyle his entire life. He holds an advanced belt in Brazilian Jiu Jiutsu and has been published multiple times in scientific, peer reviewed journals. Brett is the son of former editor-in-chief of Muscle & Fitness magazine, Dr. Tom Deters.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.