Strengthen The Hamstring with Active Isolated Stretching

Would you like a stronger, more powerful jump? How about a safer landing, a deeper plié, and a greater range of motion in your knees?

Bent Knee Hamstring Exercise with Active Isolated Stretching contributed by Matthew Doolin BA, NMT from A Ballet Magazine’s June Issue.

The knee joint is the most unstable joint in the body. Put at constant torque by ballet dancers, no wonder we are worried about their health and safety. Or maybe you would love a greater range of motion, a more square split, and cleaner penché line. 

This exercise helps to create length in the joint capsule of the knee, stretching not only its hinging action but also its unique rotational aspect. 

Often in ballet, we only stretch turned out and for far too long for our tissue to actually lengthen. After just two seconds, the stretch reflex fires from our body to our mind telling it “we may be in danger, tense up now to avoid injury!” Physiologically, after two seconds of stretching any joint past, the range of motion, our stretch becomes an isometric contraction, similar to holding our plank or developpé a la seconde. The pain we feel from stretching after two seconds is our defense mechanism which in ballet we are taught to ignore. 

By actively engaging the quads, abs, and hip flexors to perform this exercise we are able to effectively stretch the hamstrings and calves without sending a negative message to our tissue. We’re respecting our reflexes, using Sherrington’s Law of Reciprocal Inhibition.

To begin the stretch, lay on your back with your legs outstretched in front of you. Place a non stretch strap, rope, or lead around the sole of the exercising leg’s foot to begin. You may use your hands on the back of the thigh and calf as well. The starting position begins with the knee flexed toward the rib cage and same side shoulder. Contract the quads to fully extend the knee. At the end of the knee movement keep contracted the quadriceps and assist with a rope or your hands. The lower leg should finish over the upper leg without the upper leg moving forward away from the chest. After maintaining a fully stretched knee for two seconds, release back to the starting position. 

In order to assure maximum stretch, a proper angle must be obtained between the thigh and chest and full extension of the knee is attained in each repetition. Release to the starting position of complete knee flexion and gently repeat the exercise moving the legs slightly closer to the chest. 

2 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions recommended, alternating legs after each set.

Repeat the same exercise but wrap the strap around the bottom of the foot and back around from the inside to the outside of the lower leg to create an inward rotation of the shin. Make sure the femur stays neutral and parallel, it is not a complete turn-in of the entire leg.

2 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions recommended, alternating legs after each set.

Repeat the same exercise but wrap the strap around the bottom of the foot and out around from outside to inside of the lower leg to create an outward rotation of the shin. Make sure the femur stays neutral and parallel, it is not a complete turn out of the entire leg.

2 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions recommended, alternating legs after each set.

Do not arch your back, or hike the hip off of the ground surface to compensate for greater stretch. This exercise is about keeping the quadriceps contracted during the entire knee extension as it is creating length in the back of the joint. Relax the ankle, do not strive to point the foot. You do not want to add greater tension to the stretch, but isolate the focus just to the back of the knee. Every time you contract the top thigh muscles, exhale and inhale on the return back to the starting position. Lastly, do not use the strap or your hands to pull your foot closer to your face. That strap is there to add a gentle assisted stretch after your muscles have fully done the action of straightening the knee from a flexed hip.

Matthew Doolin BA, NMT

Matthew Doolin is a Neuromuscular Therapist who specializes in physical rehabilitation, injury and pain management for all. He danced professionally for thirteen years as well as obtained BA from Butler University, two years study to become a medical massage therapist at the National Holistic Institute in San Francisco, and has been practicing Active Isolated Stretching for three three years. He currently lives in Jacksonville, Florida and treats patients online and in person. Please visit his website, IG account, or email him for more information. During this time of crisis Matthew is offering sliding-scale pricing for those interested in taking better care of their facilities or want to break through their physical limitations. 

Www.matthewdoolin.com

Instagram: madmovementherapy

Doolinbodywork@gmail.com

2 Replies to “Strengthen The Hamstring with Active Isolated Stretching”

  1. Great post! Would you mind if I translated it into Spanish for my blog dedicated to Adult Ballet Classes. I’m a 49 years old ballet student in Barcelona. Of course I will refer you as the author and link to your entry. Would it be OK for you? Best Regards and congratulations for your great job!

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