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Static Stretching (Posterior Chain): Erector Spine and Hamstrings Complex

EnFuse Staff
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Category: Strength & Rehabilitation

Static Stretching (Posterior Chain): Erector Spine and Hamstrings Complex

For many gym enthusiasts, muscle tightness is not a foreign experience, especially after strenuous workouts.  Part I of Stretching & Self Myo-Fascial Release explained the idea of SMR and the benefits of adding the various techniques to your exercise program.  This article will highlight some of the common muscles that are often tight in most people, regardless of their activity levels.

Posterior Chain

The posterior chain muscles include the group of muscles that run alongside your spine (aka “erector spinae”- spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis) and also include your gluteal muscles (minimus, medius, maximus), hamstrings (biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus), and primary calf musculature (gastrocnemius, soleus).  While muscles of the posterior chain often work in synergy, they are in fact muscles that can be  compartmentalized and all perform various interdependent functions to keep us moving / protect us. 

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the erector spinae and hamstrings complex. 

Erector Spinae:  The erector spinae are located on each side of the spinal column and are responsible for your upright posture while sitting, standing, and walking.  They are composed of the lumbar paraspinals are composed of three main intrinsic muscle groups: iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis.  These muscles outline the spine longitudinally (vertically), providing stability and mobility to each individual spinal segment.  Furthermore, the paraspinals are broken up into three divisions when referencing spinal position: cervical, thoracic, and lumbar.  The thickest section of the paraspinals is found in the lumbar region. 

Lumbar paraspinals, being the thickest, tend to be tight on many people.  As creatures of motion, we often find ourselves bending to tie our shoes, lift boxes, or help our children.  The common hinge point for the human body to flex forward is at the hips.  This puts a large amount of stretch on the lumbar paraspinals and, consequently, requires them to contract to allow your body to return to the erect state.   As mentioned in Part I of Stretching & Self Myo-Fascial Release, repetitive motion can cause the muscles to become tight or create knots.

Once the lumbar paraspinals become tight, it is usually difficulty to resolve.  This deficit may lead to static and dynamic positions.  If the tightness persists, and postural changes ensue, it can be detrimental to your body later in life.  Altered posture can leave you more susceptible to injury like disk herniation and nerve root damage.

Hamstring Complex:  The hamstrings are another another major muscle group that is often tight within the posterior chain.  They run from your pelvic bones down to your knees.  The three muscle groups that comprise the hamstrings complex are: biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.

We have these muscles to thank when we bend our knee (knee flexion) or extend our lower extremities (hip extension).  Step ambulation (walking), squatting, and jumping are examples of activities that engage the hamstrings.  This is one of the most common muscle groups that become tight / inflexible, especially in people who spend most of their day sitting, as this position allows the muscles to remain in a shortened state for extended amounts of time. 

Tight hamstrings can lead to painful ADL’s (activities of daily living) and limitations in athletic endeavors.  Additionally, activities that involve running and jumping (or, that require a great deal of force output) can prove to be dangerous for a person with tight hamstrings.  Muscle tears are not uncommon and many times are the result of a loaded stress on the musculature, such as sprinting, when it does not have the elasticity required.

SMR techniques can be used to alleviate some of the muscle tightness that you may be experiencing.  Similarly, static stretching can add the length to your muscles or simply maintain the state of elasticity they already have.   

Static stretching tends to be the most common type of stretching practiced by people.  Static stretching involves holding a body position that puts a target muscle in a lengthened state for a prolonged period of time (typically, 45-60 seconds).  For the purposes of static stretching, it is important that these stretches are held for an extended amount time.  Why, you might ask? Muscles are elastic in nature.  This means that when stretched, they have the ability to return to their normal state.  Muscles much reach the plastic region (essentially, enough of a stretch to promote permanent elongation) in order to truly work towards alleviating tightness. 

 

Sample Stretching Protocol for Lumbar Paraspinals and Hamstrings

Note:  These exercises / stretches can be performed in circuit fashion after a gentle cardiovascular warm-up.

 

Supine Leg-Overs

How to perform:

  • Execute this stretch by lying supine (on your back) on the floor.
  • Straighten your legs and then allow one leg to raise as high as possible (maintaining straight leg posture) and gently (under control) swing the suspended leg to the furthest point possible on the opposite side of the body. 
  • Hold for 45-60 seconds and relax.
  • Repeat 3-4 times.

Lat Stretch with Exercise Ball

How to perform:

  • In the quadruped position (on all fours), place both hands on top of the exercise ball.
  • Gently draw your abdomen in.
  • Slowly sink your chest towards the ground.
  • Hold for 45-60 seconds and relax.
  • Repeat 3-4 times.

Seated Flexion

How to perform:

  • While sitting down in a chair, bend forward at the hips and try to place your hands on the floor and hold the position.
  • Hold stretch for 45-60 seconds.
  • Perform 3-4 repetitions.


Hamstring Stretch with Strap

How to perform:

  • Lying flat on your back (supine), wrap a strap, belt, or towel around your foot. 
  • Using your arms, pull your leg straight up into the air.
  • Hold stretch for 45-60 seconds.
  • Perform 3-4 repetitions.


Hamstring Stretch on Step

How to perform:

  • Standing approximately 1 foot from a step, place the stretching leg onto the step and the non-stretching leg on the floor.
  • Bend at the hips only, flex forward to touch your toes.
  • Hold stretch for 45-60 seconds.
  • Perform 3-4 repetitions.


Figure 4 Stretch

How to perform:

  • Sitting on the floor, straighten both of your legs.
  • Next, bend one leg in and flex forward to try and touch your toes.
  • Hold stretch for 45-60 seconds.
  • Perform 3-4 repetitions.

If you need any coaching or guidance on how best to improve your flexibility, mobility, and or movement mechanics, please contact our team to set up a consult- support@EnFuseFitness.com 

 

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We hope that you find this article helpful!

In Health,
Team EnFuse

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References:

Ridder EMD, Oosterwijck JOV, Vleeming A, Vanderstraeten GG, Danneels LA. Posterior muscle chain activity during various extension exercises: an observational study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2013;14(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-204.

E S, S W, S G. Comparing Hamstring Muscle Length Measurements of the Traditional Active Knee Extension Test and a Functional Hamstring Flexibility Test. Journal of Physiotherapy & Physical Rehabilitation. 2017;02(01). doi:10.4172/2573-0312.1000125.

The effect of time and frequency of static stretching on flexibility of the hamstring muscles. Manual Therapy. 1998;3(2):111. doi:10.1016/s1356-689x(98)80034-9.

 

Images:

http://competitivesportsclinic.com.au/training/what-is-the-posterior-chain/
http://www.musclesused.com/erector-spinae-2/
https://corewalking.com/what-are-the-hamstrings/
http://www.ncashevillechiropractor.com/2013/back-care/
https://www.fitnesstep1.com/7-must-try-moves-get-started-stretching-workout/
http://www.sportdynamics.net/back?lightbox=imagestn
http://www.pt-helper.com/back.html
http://stretchcoach.com/products/stretch-strap/
http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/thigh-pain/back-thigh/tight-hamstrings-stretching
http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/hamstring-and-posterior-chain-exercises
https://3d4medical.com/apps/essential-anatomy-5

 

 

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