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Hamstrings and Lordosis

Helloâ?¦I have a question regarding the role that hamstrings have on pelvic alignment. Iâ??m the happy owner of what Eric Creassy describes as, The Caveman look. A few issues with my posture, the lordosis of my spine being the one Iâ??m mainly concerned about. So I did a bit of reading on it, Heal the Hunchback(Mike Robertson), Neanderthal no More(Eric Cressey&Mike R) and Fixing your Force Couples(Mike R) are all great articles that gave me some understanding of my condition and what I can do to improve it. The only thing that has gotten me confused, is the difference of opinion towards the role that hamstrings have in some of the articles.

For example, in Hunchback and Neanderthal, Eric&Mike say that the hamstrings tend to pick up the load left over from the inhibited glutes, resulting in their shortening and tighteningâ?¦so the advice is to stretch the hamstrings to lengthen them(along with the spinal erectors and hip flexors), while strengthening the glutes and abs. Now, in Fixing your Force Couples,the same Mike says that the hamstrings pick up the extra load because of the inhibited glutes, but then he says that the hamstrings are actually lengthened and that in order to balance things out, strength training is necessary for them. So the exact opposite from the other 2 articles.
This is the only thing that made me scratch my head, so Iâ??m wondering if anyone here can shed of bit of light on this issue.

Hi. I’ve done a great deal of research on anterior pelvic tilt.

I will try to clarify that question as best I can (it was also something that confused me first because a lot of the literature is conflicting).

As you know, in order to have equal force couples at the pelvis you want to avoid quad dominance (over the hamstrings). Typically, if you have “caveman” posture, or “desk jockey” syndrome as I like to call it, your hip flexors (particularly the iliopsoas and rectus femoris) are shortened. The hamstrings are usually lengthened.

I like “desk jockey” syndrome because it helps to explain this relationship. When you are sedentary for a good portion of the day, your hip flexors remain in the same flexed postion (hips about 90 degrees flexion) and the hamstrings and glutes are lengthened (in order to extend your hip past neutral they need to contract/shorten). So when your hip is FLEXED, those hip extensor muscles are in a lengthened position.

The PROBLEM is most people complain that their hamstrings feel tight/weak. Their first inclination is to stretch the hamstrings, which often involves a lot of tugging/pulling and bending over at the lumbar region. They also want to yank around on their quads and lean aggressively into hip flexor stretches.

I advise most of my clients NOT to do either of these things. I make the initial focus (first 2 weeks) on core strengthening (particularly the rectus abdominis) and the back extensors. What I find is that their anterior core is not strong enough to pull the pelvis posteriorly, so with the combined dominance of the quads it’s tipped forward. Stretching the hamstrings prematurely is only going to tire them more out with little affect on the problem.

Here is a pdf of some awesome core exercises for APT: http://www.acefitness.org/pdfs/LowBackStabilization.pdf

Secondly, I have the PASSIVELY stretch their hip flexors while lying prone, preferably on the side of a taller bed. For most clients with ATP, I advise them to use a rope for any stretching which limits the amount of active contraction during the stretch. I have them place one foot off the bed (scooching it forward as much as possible) and leave the other leg extended behind them with the knee bent at 90deg and the foot towards the ceiling. They can loop the rope around the foot and pull back (while keeping their back straight and head facing forward) and stretch the hip psoas and rectus femoris by pulling their heel back towards their butt. You want to focus on feeling the stretch right over the front of the hip joint, near the groin area.

And third, I allow them to do RANGE OF MOTION exercises for their hamstrings, but avoid actual stretching. To do this I have them lie on their backs with their legs extended out straight and a rope placed around the foot of one leg. They then use the rope to lift their leg up (as if they were doing a straight leg raise) and they can gently pull back until they feel a very gentle stretch and just hold it for an extended period of time 60-120 seconds and then let the leg go back down to the ground. By lying on their back, and not rocking their pelvis, they are putting the hamstring through it’s natural ROM without compensating at the hips (which is what ATP victims tend to do on a daily basis).

Hope this helps!!

[quote]dutzu wrote:
Helloâ?¦I have a question regarding the role that hamstrings have on pelvic alignment. Iâ??m the happy owner of what Eric Creassy describes as, The Caveman look. A few issues with my posture, the lordosis of my spine being the one Iâ??m mainly concerned about. So I did a bit of reading on it, Heal the Hunchback(Mike Robertson), Neanderthal no More(Eric Cressey&Mike R) and Fixing your Force Couples(Mike R) are all great articles that gave me some understanding of my condition and what I can do to improve it. The only thing that has gotten me confused, is the difference of opinion towards the role that hamstrings have in some of the articles.

For example, in Hunchback and Neanderthal, Eric&Mike say that the hamstrings tend to pick up the load left over from the inhibited glutes, resulting in their shortening and tighteningâ?¦so the advice is to stretch the hamstrings to lengthen them(along with the spinal erectors and hip flexors), while strengthening the glutes and abs. Now, in Fixing your Force Couples,the same Mike says that the hamstrings pick up the extra load because of the inhibited glutes, but then he says that the hamstrings are actually lengthened and that in order to balance things out, strength training is necessary for them. So the exact opposite from the other 2 articles.
This is the only thing that made me scratch my head, so Iâ??m wondering if anyone here can shed of bit of light on this issue.
[/quote]

The hamstrings very rarely need extra strengthening relative to other muscles. The glutes do.

When the glutes aren’t working well the hamstrings often pick up the slack as hip extensors. However, the hamstrings also flex the knee. The hamstrings are not always overworked as knee flexors.

This can get complicated. For instance, if glute maximus / posterior glute medius aren’t working well as lateral rotators the biceps femoris (hamstring muscle) may pick up the slack as a lateral rotator. However, the medial aspect of the hamstring (semitendinosus and semimembranosus) may not be working more than they should.

It really isn’t as simple as inihibited glutes = need or don’t need extra hamstrings. This is because those articles really only looked at the anatomy in the sagittal plane when these muscles, and the pain they can cause, are often much more important in the transverse (rotational) plane.

Overall though: Glutes need way more work than hamstrings do. You’re going to be hard pressed to find someone with “underactive” hamstrings.

[quote]neliah09 wrote:

As you know, in order to have equal force couples at the pelvis you want to avoid quad dominance (over the hamstrings). Typically, if you have “caveman” posture, or “desk jockey” syndrome as I like to call it, your hip flexors (particularly the iliopsoas and rectus femoris) are shortened. The hamstrings are usually lengthened.

I like “desk jockey” syndrome because it helps to explain this relationship. When you are sedentary for a good portion of the day, your hip flexors remain in the same flexed postion (hips about 90 degrees flexion) and the hamstrings and glutes are lengthened (in order to extend your hip past neutral they need to contract/shorten). So when your hip is FLEXED, those hip extensor muscles are in a lengthened position.

The PROBLEM is most people complain that their hamstrings feel tight/weak. Their first inclination is to stretch the hamstrings, which often involves a lot of tugging/pulling and bending over at the lumbar region. They also want to yank around on their quads and lean aggressively into hip flexor stretches.

I advise most of my clients NOT to do either of these things. I make the initial focus (first 2 weeks) on core strengthening (particularly the rectus abdominis) and the back extensors. What I find is that their anterior core is not strong enough to pull the pelvis posteriorly, so with the combined dominance of the quads it’s tipped forward. Stretching the hamstrings prematurely is only going to tire them more out with little affect on the problem.

Secondly, I have the PASSIVELY stretch their hip flexors while lying prone, preferably on the side of a taller bed. For most clients with ATP, I advise them to use a rope for any stretching which limits the amount of active contraction during the stretch. I have them place one foot off the bed (scooching it forward as much as possible) and leave the other leg extended behind them with the knee bent at 90deg and the foot towards the ceiling. They can loop the rope around the foot and pull back (while keeping their back straight and head facing forward) and stretch the hip psoas and rectus femoris by pulling their heel back towards their butt. You want to focus on feeling the stretch right over the front of the hip joint, near the groin area.

[/quote]

The hamstrings are not lengthened in a typical sitting position. Because the knees are bent they may be stretched from the pelvis end, but, they are tightened from the knee end. Therefore, the muscle is not on stretch.

The rectus abdominus is in a shortened position in a typical sitting posture. I’m not sure why you’re focusing on strengthening and tightening it more? The external obliques are a much more effective posterior tilter of the pelvis.

Be very careful using that hip flexor stretch you describe. In someone with APT if the lower back is arching during that stretch, the psoas is not being stretched (the psoas is actually shortened due to the fact the back is arched). If the back is arched and the butt is not squeezed you are actually stretching the hip capsule and not the muscles.

I completely agree with you in regards to the hip flexor stretch. Personally, it took me about a week to truly get the stretch down and understand how easily I could modify the stretch (without meaning to) and change the purpose of it. For me, it helped significantly because it was one of the few stretches that my hip flexor did not fight. However, I think you make a great point because it is not for everyone (especially someone who does not pay attention to the details you just explained).

I also can understand where you are coming from with your comments about positioning of the hamstring muscle when sitting. I didn’t say it was being “stretched.” I said the fibers were in more of a “lengthened” state. My point was that continual stretching is not necessarily the cure, and that hamstring strengthening and ROM for the hip joint is more effective in gaining back function. However, your explanation is more accurate and I think the word/phrase that would have been more appropriate to use would have been “on slack.” As you mentioned, they are not “on stretch”, but they are also not in a shortened position. I will have to remember that, thank you.

And while I have not read the EO’s are better pelvic stabilizers in terms of the Anterior-Posterior plane, I DO agree they are strong stabilizers in general. I did not think at all to include them in my post. Do you have any specific exercises you have done or currently do for them in terms of pelvic stabilization? I do know that the 3rd exercise in the PDF from the link I posted targets them very well from an isometric/bracing standpoint. But I am definitely up for learning other exercises.

I’m a bit confused by the terminology here, you say you have lordosis of which a major contributing factor is an anterior pelvic tilt. However you refernced the hunchback look in your reading. Traditionally hyperlordosis (as the spine is normally lordotic to a degree) is associated with a swayback posture to compensate for the excessive inward curvature of the spine.

That problem is treated as the other commentors have stated by strengthening the hip extensors and working to release the hip flexors (the psosas in particular). However a hunchback posture is commonly ascociated with kyphosis which is an outward curvature of the spine. By definition kyphosis is the opposite of lordosis, extreme cases of kyphosis and lordosis together are rare by my knowledge, however being anteriorly rotated through the shoulders and upper trap dominant (which can cause a similar look) while possesing an anterior pelvic tilt is not, especially in the desk-job population.

The point is that correcting the anterior pelvic tilt is still a priority but the hunchback posture is more an issue to be delt with via scapular strength and postural considerations. So in addition to everything you are doing for the pelvis, working on strengtening the lower trap and rotator cuff may also be something to prioritize.

Basic cuff work can be done practically with a cheap set of aerobics weights (1-3lbs) and a high table to lay on. Stand in front of a mirror with the weights, feet shoulder width apart, take a tall upright core posture using the hips to stabilize (might as well work on hip position too) a drawn in core (drawn in means holding a tight core without contracting the abdominals to the point of flexion).

Squeeze through the mid back to pull your scaps backwards and down, you should feel like you are trying to hold something in place at the mid back. The upper trap should not be active. Raise the weights laterally, at a 30 degree angle to the scap, and directly in front of you at shoulder width. These are three different movements, do each at two sets of 15.

Throughout the movement hold the squeeze in the lower trap and focus on a smooth stable motion of the arms. During the motion you are trying to activate the rotator cuff muscles, not the upper trap or deltiod.This is the reason for the light weights, as anything much heavier than that will cause the deltoid and upper trap to compensate for the greater load. During the motion if someone came and pushed on the upper trap they should be able to squish it, basically it shouldn’t be flexed.

The second portion will require you to lay on a table high enough so the arm hangs at rest without touching the floor.Keep you head relaxed on the table to avoid activating the upper trap. From this position pronate the forearm and retract the shoulder blade through the using the lower trap. Then abduct (move it laterally away from you) the arm to level with your body, hold for 10 seconds in this position while maintaining activation the lower trap, then release an restart from rest two sets of eight here, and use just arm weight at first if you can’t maintain the hold without compensating with the upper trap.

When finished there keep the same position (shoulder retracted, forearm pronated,neck relaxed) and bring the arm into shoulder extension ( straight back to your side) hold 10 seconds like before and reset. Do this on both sides. Finally laying facedown on the table retract the lower trap, and abduct both arms, forming a T-shape with your body, hold here ten seconds for three sets, then three more with the elbows bent forming more of a cactus shape. That should be enough to get you started.

From here on focus on posture throughout the day, try to keep the shoulders back while at your desk, even if you fatigue after 5 minutes that is five minutes in the right direction, don’t slouch while watching T.V. playing video games, texting ect. Those mundane things honestly will have more of an impact than the coorective work.

Finally as if this post wasn’t long enough, when coorecting the pelvic tilt I would be cautious trying to strengthen the abdominals. Only the muscles on the front and on the back of the thighs can rotate the pelvis forward or backward while in a standing position because they can discharge the force on the ground through the legs and feet. Abdominal muscles and erector spinae can’t discharge force on an anchor point while standing, unless you are holding your hands somewhere, hence their function will be to flex or extend the torso, not the hip. The abs don’t cause the tilt, but a majority of abdominal excercises require substantial contribution by the hip flexors, which you do not want to become any more active. So approach with caution, prone bridging is okay is executed properly, but avoid all the crunches, leg raises, and such.

Hope that helps you!

[quote]neliah09 wrote:
I completely agree with you in regards to the hip flexor stretch. Personally, it took me about a week to truly get the stretch down and understand how easily I could modify the stretch (without meaning to) and change the purpose of it. For me, it helped significantly because it was one of the few stretches that my hip flexor did not fight. However, I think you make a great point because it is not for everyone (especially someone who does not pay attention to the details you just explained).

I also can understand where you are coming from with your comments about positioning of the hamstring muscle when sitting. I didn’t say it was being “stretched.” I said the fibers were in more of a “lengthened” state. My point was that continual stretching is not necessarily the cure, and that hamstring strengthening and ROM for the hip joint is more effective in gaining back function. However, your explanation is more accurate and I think the word/phrase that would have been more appropriate to use would have been “on slack.” As you mentioned, they are not “on stretch”, but they are also not in a shortened position. I will have to remember that, thank you.

And while I have not read the EO’s are better pelvic stabilizers in terms of the Anterior-Posterior plane, I DO agree they are strong stabilizers in general. I did not think at all to include them in my post. Do you have any specific exercises you have done or currently do for them in terms of pelvic stabilization? I do know that the 3rd exercise in the PDF from the link I posted targets them very well from an isometric/bracing standpoint. But I am definitely up for learning other exercises. [/quote]

Some simple leg raises while making sure the lower back doesn’t arch is something I often go to. As long as the person has healthy hips.

Haven’t read a lot of the other responses because they are long but hamstrings in APT can be tight or weak. At their origin on the ischial tuberosities, tightened hamstrings should result in posterior pelvic tilt. However, if glutes and abs are weak and spinal extensors and hip flexors are tight, there will be APT which can falsely make it seem like the hamstrings are tight. Try this test: Lie on your back in pelvic neutral, flex your hip to 90 degrees then extend your knee trying to make your whole leg 90 degrees from your body. If you can get your foot within 20 degrees of vertical your hamstring length is normal.

Good thread and very good information supplied.

One thing though, I’m struggling to visualise some of these exercises recommended.

Is this one of theme?
Rope Hip Flexor Stretch

[quote]Bronco_XIII wrote:
I’m a bit confused by the terminology here, you say you have lordosis of which a major contributing factor is an anterior pelvic tilt. However you refernced the hunchback look in your reading. Traditionally hyperlordosis (as the spine is normally lordotic to a degree) is associated with a swayback posture to compensate for the excessive inward curvature of the spine.

That problem is treated as the other commentors have stated by strengthening the hip extensors and working to release the hip flexors (the psosas in particular). However a hunchback posture is commonly ascociated with kyphosis which is an outward curvature of the spine. By definition kyphosis is the opposite of lordosis, extreme cases of kyphosis and lordosis together are rare by my knowledge, however being anteriorly rotated through the shoulders and upper trap dominant (which can cause a similar look) while possesing an anterior pelvic tilt is not, especially in the desk-job population.

[/quote]

This. I’m confused.

Note picture. The guy in the center is demonstrating lordosis with anterior pelvic tilt, right? People describe it as more of a cat in heat posture, not a caveman deal.

[quote]Powerpuff wrote:

[quote]Bronco_XIII wrote:
I’m a bit confused by the terminology here, you say you have lordosis of which a major contributing factor is an anterior pelvic tilt. However you refernced the hunchback look in your reading. Traditionally hyperlordosis (as the spine is normally lordotic to a degree) is associated with a swayback posture to compensate for the excessive inward curvature of the spine.

That problem is treated as the other commentors have stated by strengthening the hip extensors and working to release the hip flexors (the psosas in particular). However a hunchback posture is commonly ascociated with kyphosis which is an outward curvature of the spine. By definition kyphosis is the opposite of lordosis, extreme cases of kyphosis and lordosis together are rare by my knowledge, however being anteriorly rotated through the shoulders and upper trap dominant (which can cause a similar look) while possesing an anterior pelvic tilt is not, especially in the desk-job population.

[/quote]

This. I’m confused.

Note picture. The guy in the center is demonstrating lordosis with anterior pelvic tilt, right? People describe it as more of a cat in heat posture, not a caveman deal.
[/quote]

An individual CAN suffer from lordosis and kyphosis simultaneously.

Lordosis, as generally defined, occurs at the lumbar spine.

Kyphosis, as generally defined, occurs at the thoraic spine.

Think of the average desk jockey who defines his manhood by the bench press. Go to any given commercial gym on any given evening and these misguided fools are about as common as teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

The prolonged sitting shortens the hip flexors as well as down regulate the glutes. The excessive benching (almost always with bad technique) shortens the pec major/minor as well as overdevelop the anterior deltoids (this is key because the anterior portion originates from the clavicle). This type of lifting behaviour, in conjunction with a rounded shoulder posture of the typical desk jockey, promotes what is commonly known as the hunch-back look.

The picture you posted is relevant only in terms of discussing lordosis. I presume that was the intent of the photos.

To address kyphosis, practice the information that’s been discussed ad nauseum. SMR the t-spine region (stay away from the lumbar spine); learn to activate and strengthen the scapular retractors/depressors, work on gaining mobility at the pec major/minor/anterior deltoid area (no need for hypermobility at the shoulder so use common sense).

To address lordosis, the standard protocol are the ones discussed several times in this thread and numeral times via articles: activate/strengthen the glutes, gain mobility at the hip flexors. How one goes about this varies with each individual. People DO have to be careful to not arch the lumbar spine when performing mobility exercises.

I will disagree with the poster who stated the hamstring complex rarely need strengthening. A large majority of the population that I’ve seen (even those who consider themselves gym-smart) are quad dominant.

Yes, glutes are important. However, synergistic dominance can be mercurial. Too much work on what was once a weak link can result in a new weak link in the chain.

So, perform the necessary glute work is my advice. However, make sure to strengthen BOTH hip extensors and knee flexors. Here’s a hint: although RDLs, glute ham raises, and other movements that extend the hip are important, they are not enough - especially if you want to prevent or alleviate knee pain. But this is another topic entirely.