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George Launchbury

Lower back flatness and pike stretches

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George Launchbury

Morning all,

Sorry, but I have yet more stretching-related matters that I would really appreciate some feedback on if anyone has time...

When stretching the hamstrings it is advised to keep the lower back as flat as possible, since directly stretching the lower back is a bad idea ...you don't want to overstretch the ligaments, or cause any damage to the discs or vertebrae. Same with deadlifts, squats ...and even things like sitting.

While it is no problem to stretch the hamstrings effectively without rounding the back, it does seem that to get into a chin-to-shins pike position you eventually need to round your back to some extent. I found this rather confusing, until further examination of some photos showed that the curve appears to be mainly in the thoracic spine, which should pose no problems since it is designed to be more flexible. Is this correct?

Assuming that is the case, for those 'beginners' who have no access to an experienced coach, or even a good spotter (that includes me) I have the following theory: Initially one should work on the pike position by stretching the hamstrings with a flat back until you get to a point where you cannot fold any further at the hips (because your thighs are in the way of your torso). Then progress by flexing through the thoracic spine to get chest to thighs, chin to shins, etc. I would think that following that method would keep the lower back flat enough to be safe?

Maybe I'm just over-analysing it, and simply thinking about keeping the lower back flat and extending out over the feet will stop the lower back from getting too rounded ...but what is too rounded? My main worry is that beginners tend to measure progress in terms of how near their knees/shins/toes they can get, and not really worry about the angle at the hips or rounding of the back? This and the problem that usually their awareness of body position just isn't that acute at this early stage in gymnastic training.

Thanks,

George.

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Coach Sommer

A static pike stretch is not the most efficient way to build pike position flexibility (I far prefer windmills, weighted pikes or stall bar/swedish bar work), but there are several modifications which can be added to increase its efficacy.

For example, with the knees locked, lower into a pike stretch until comfortably shy of your current limit. Now maintaining the depth of your stretch, attempt to arch your back without allowing your torso to rise. For those who have never attempted this previously, making just a small change in your position here will lead to a new and interesting experience by stretching deeply into areas of your back that you didn't even know that you had. Hold this position for several seconds. Relax the arch and stretch deeper into the pike. Repeat the arch.

Once you feel that you have gained all you can, allow the knees to bend until you are able to place the tips of your elbows on the floor. Maintaining that elbow and torso position, attempt to arch the lower back as before. Pause once again. Release and sink deeper into the bent leg pike by sliding the feet forward slightly. Keeping the elbows on the floor in the newly extended position, arch the back and pause holding a strong contraction. Continue this pattern of arching, releasing and extending until you have reached that day's limit.

Remember that this is not a fight to the death. Do not overly strain. Increases in flexibility are generally far more gradual that muscular strength gains and should be allowed to develop naturally and patiently. Unlike conditioning, excessively straining during passive stretching greatly increases the likelihood of an injury occuring.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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Alex

Good question, great answer...cheers guys :)

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George Launchbury

Thanks Coach.

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Ortprod

Hey guys,

I am having a little bit of trouble picturing this. Could someone do a photo if they have time?

Thanks in advance,

-J

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Guest Garre33

I'm glad I read this post now before I damage my lower back even more... This site is amazing :D

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JaredLLL

Ortprod, in short this is what i got... Coach mentions two different positions to stretch your hamstrings

1) sit on the ground, legs together out in front of you, lean forward, then roll the pelvis foward,

rinse and repeat.

2) sit on the ground, bend your legs so you can bend foward to put your elbows on the ground, and from that position roll the pelvis forward, rinse and repeat.

This motion uses your pelvis to stretch the muscles, instead of you pulling on your ankles or legs, which in turn pulls the shoulders, which indirectly stretch your hamstrings, this can be unsafe and could lead to strain on your back. If you are still having problems visualizing that motion, while you are in either position, think of trying to stick your butt out behind you.

Hope that helps clarify things.

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Guest Garre33

Sorry Ortprod, I skipped your last post. In pavel's stretching book he suggests that the Good Morning is the best way to stretch the hamstrings. I'm not entirely clear on the exact way to execute the stretch (I haven't worked on it yet because I'm not stretching due to overstretching) but I'll P.M. you the page. (I don't know how to post images here)

***edit: I'll just post the text without the pictures. If you want the pictures, message me and I'll send them.

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Guest Garre33

The Good Morning Hamstring Stretch:

"Stand normally, your feet shoulder width

apart and pointing forward. Start by placing

the edges of your hands into the creases on

top of your thighs. Press your hands hard

into your ‘hinges' and stick your butt out

while keeping your weight on your heels.

Your knees should be slightly bent.

Keep your chest open, your lower back

arched, and your chin pointed forward

throughout this and other hamstring

stretches! If you do not, your hammies will

remain forever tight.

The Good Morning Stretch:

As you are folding, you will feel a pull

right underneath your buttâ€â€or a hand’s

width above your knees. If you do notâ€â€read

the manual again! Once you have

understood what a hamstring stretch is

supposed to feel like, reach your arms

forward for balance and finally get to work!

Flex the spots where you feel the pull. At the same time squeeze your butt and imagine that you are trying to paw the ground with your heels or push your heels through the floor. When you release the tension your body will fold like a jackknife. Appreciate the difference between folding like a jackknife and bending forward!

Naturally, you cannot completely relax with the Good Morning stretch because your back must stay straight and your chin up."

He goes on to say that you can perform this on the edge of a sturdy chair if you aren't comfortable doing this standing. According to Pavel, this is the most effective hamstring stretch because "it will finally teach you the difference between stretching your back and stretching your hamstrings. Few comrades get the difference, hence many overstretched backs and overly tight hams."

*phew* long post, hope this helps- don't hurt yourself!

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JaredLLL

One more thing i'd like to add regarding hamstring flexibility..

A typical problem with hamstring flexiblity regarding a forward bend, or good morning, involves the inability for certain muscles to relax, which you are aming to stretch.

There are muscles that can activate to hold you upright which will allow the hamstring and other muscles to relax and respond to the stretch. Through misuse and what have you, people will train their muscles to activate incorrectly. The result is a working muscle that you are trying to stretch, i.e. no gains.

A way to retrain your legs to respond to the stretching is by placing a towel/pillow between your legs. keep the tension on it while you do your good mornings, it will allow your hamstrings to relax as they are supposed to and allow you to progress in your flexibility training.

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Ortprod

Very helpful, thanks very much guys!

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Blairbob

Nice tutorial of a good morning. No need to necessarily use weights, especially at first. I have tinkered around with doing it slow down and holding for time periods.

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Aaron Griffin
(I far prefer windmills, weighted pikes or stall bar/swedish bar work)

Coach, What's a windmill? Are we talking the "touch the opposite toe" thing while in a straddle?

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Craig Mallett

Guys keep in mind also that a deep piriformis stretch prior to your pike stretching will do you WONDERS (unless you have an exceptionally flexible piriformis already.

I went from head about a foot away from my knees to head in between my knees *without* any hamstring stretches, just piriformis.

A very simple piriformis stretch is to sit on a chair, bring one ankle up on to the opposite knee and lean forward from the hips. Think of extending your head upwards to help flatten the back out, also can think of poking the bum out backwards. There are better, deeper piriformis stretches but they are difficult to explain without pictures.

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Joshua Naterman
Guys keep in mind also that a deep piriformis stretch prior to your pike stretching will do you WONDERS (unless you have an exceptionally flexible piriformis already.

I went from head about a foot away from my knees to head in between my knees *without* any hamstring stretches, just piriformis.

A very simple piriformis stretch is to sit on a chair, bring one ankle up on to the opposite knee and lean forward from the hips. Think of extending your head upwards to help flatten the back out, also can think of poking the bum out backwards. There are better, deeper piriformis stretches but they are difficult to explain without pictures.

You can actually do the same thing with your lower leg on a couch, chair, or bed instead of the ankle in the knee. This also produces much less torque at the knee while allowing for a more controlled stretch.

Regardless of the method, piriformis stretches (which also stretch the other deep hip external rotators) are absolutely key for pike flexibility. They really make a huge difference!

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