Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How To Fix Your Hamstring... In 8 Easy Steps

Ok so first of all, huge Mahalo to those of you who took the time to reach out to me privately after that last post about my hamstring situation. Really appreciate you taking the time to offer your experiences and suggestions! Ii've tried lots of different avenues trying to resolve this thing and here's how it's going. :)

The other day I was riding and that Alanis Morrisette song came on my iPod... Thought the Eight Easy Steps line was funny so I was originally going to write a post called How To Fry Your Hamstring (Eight Easy Steps) but then realized really it's only like Four Easy Steps to Fry Your Hamstrings:

1. Mash big gears a lot while you pedal mile after mile after mile in your aero bars until your hip flexors get like super short and tight. Don't stretch them because, um, that hurts.
2. Look at your Trigger Point roller a lot but decide it probably would be too painful to actually use so don't use it. Ever.
3. Notice people posting on social media all those dumb little functional strength exercises you should be doing to strengthen your hamstrings and glutes but, um, who has time or energy for those?? Not with all that biking and running you're doing... Don't be bothered with those silly things.
4. Run with super crappy form (see #1 above tight hip flexors and #3 above weak glutes/hamstrings) and when it starts hurting, just ignore that and run as fast as you can anyway.

Turns out, hamstrings hold grudges and fixing them once you have fried them takes a few more steps. For simplicity sake, I'll see if I can narrow all that I've been doing down to just eight. In no particular order (ie I think my fix has been a combination of all of these)...

1. Stretch those hip flexors. I found a version of this that uses a resistance band around your hip- you can't see it too well but that green band is wrapped around the base of my ass and pulls that hip forward even further and OMG. Wow. Stretching on steroids. Part of my problem has been that I feel a pinching feeling at the base of my ass, especially when I get done with a bike ride. Doing this stretch daily, holding for 2' at a time (each leg) has helped ease that pinchy feeling. Photo credit goes to Moana. She's pretty good for a 4 year old, no?

2. Hamstring pull against Jump Band. Found this one on MobilityWOD which has truly been my go-to for curing myself this time around... tons of good videos there and I spent so much time clicking through them all that I finally just bought Kelly Starrett's book (I will be such a Supple Leopard when I'm done with all this shit!) so now I have all his awesome info organized in a coherent way and I don't have to dig through videos online to find what I'm looking for. Fwiw, that book is hands down the best info I've come across when it comes to how to organize yourself for physical movement- totally thorough but also very well written and easy to read/understand. Anyway, I had to buy a jump band for this one (and the one above- also idea from Kelly @MWOD) but that thing is worth its weight in gold if you figure out how to use it. Best therapy tool I own. (Ok, next to some others that I'll get into soon. I have a whole freaking' arsenal of PT tools now. Lol.) Anyway, this one hurts a ton if you have little micro-tears in your hamstring but something about the eccentric nature of the exercise makes it like 100x more effective in fixing that muscle than any other exercise I've tried. So, start in this position:
Then pull straight down.
Then slowly allow your foot back up to starting position. Yikes! That is hard but only if your hamstring is compromised. Doesn't hurt at all on my right side but left side LIGHTS UP. But, after ~15 reps or so it feels 100x better. I've been doing this one 2x/day because it really feels like it's made the biggest difference.

3. More Functional Strength! Single leg glute bridges have probably been the #1 exercise for me in this category. When I first started these I could hold for like 10" before feeling like my hamstrings were going to cramp. But I did them often (several times/day) and eventually got up to 20", then 30", then 40", etc. Now I can do 3x1' each leg. PT suggested I get up to 6x1' each day so I'm still a work in progress here. The key to these is to drive down through your heel while keeping your pelvis level. Try it and you'll see what I mean. And ya, sometimes Ozzie likes to get right under that bridge, which is good b/c it's like extra motivation to not collapse on top of your cat.
For simplicity sake, and also b/c this is supposed to be only 8 Easy Steps, I'm going to group the other Fx Strength exercises I do here under this same point... planks, side planks, firewalkers with band around ankles, Jane Fonda's, clams, reverse clams, hip hikes with ankle weights, eccentric calf dips, single leg romanian dead lifts, good mornings, kettle bell swings, walking lunges (all directions), single leg squats, step ups holding weights each hand. All of these I can do right in my own living room and they're pretty much all targeting posterior chain. You can find lots of examples of good exercises just by googling posterior chain.

4. Use your Trigger Point Roller and ball. I finally stopped ignoring these things! :) If you take 5-10' to roll out your hot spots every day, it really hurts quite a bit less. I focus not only on my hamstrings here but also my quads (especially upper quad) as well as adductors b/c those suckers are T.I.G.H.T. Then I take that ball and sit on a solid chair that is up high enough off the ground and do my own version of ART on my hamstring trigger points- stick the ball under a hot spot on my hamstring then just bend and straighten my knee like I'm doing a leg extension. Yikes. It's not tough to figure out where your trigger points are. They're super obvious when you find one.

5. Find some good professionals to help. I always start with ART and acupuncture for the acute issues... They do a good job of loosening things up at least for the short term. For a more long term fix this time around I also went to see Anica at Longevity Bodywork as well as Marissa and Jaco at Jaco Rehab. Learning from professionals like this about your own personal weak/tight spots and how to fix them has been priceless. This is really how I discovered in the first place that I need to find a good hip flexor stretch and that my hamstring strength was abysmal.

6. Have a run gait analysis done. As horrifying as it can be to watch yourself run in slow motion, you'll learn so much about proper run mechanics. I used to prescribe to the line of thinking that if you just run enough, your body will figure out the most efficient way. Well, given that I have run a ton of miles over the years and my run efficiency has simply gotten worse over time, I'm going to call bullshit on that theory. Check out how far ahead of my center of mass my foot lands when I run... no real mystery why my hamstring eventually gave out! So I am working on fixing this by doing very short bouts of running with more correct form, forward lean, all that stuff. Then I stop, rest, regroup, and start again. I am up to 30x1' trying to land with my feet directly under my body, keeping turnover up, core engaged so I'm not arching my back, etc.

7. This one might be fairly controversial and I thought about leaving it out so people who know better wouldn't judge me, but I'm nothing if not honest and straightforward here so I'll include it since I do believe it is helping. I've been scraping myself with this jade heart tool thing. I've had graston done several times so I have an idea of the type of pressure and speed used and when I get desperate I'm willing to try just about anything, and I have to say, I feel awesome after spending 3-4' scraping myself. I use this Cramers rub down hot oil stuff that gets pretty hot. I def don't do this every day but maybe 2x/week for a few minutes and it's the best my hamstring ever feels after I get done with it.

8. This one might sound odd as well, but I do believe that eliminating sugar and grains from my diet recently has also made a positive difference. I read a book called The Permanent Pain Cure where Ming Chew talks about how sugar and grains can act like glue in your fascia... and if you have pain you need to get that fascia smoothed out. Willing to try anything so I could run again- even giving up pasta and bread- I tried this as an experiment. I found it interesting that within 3-4 days I felt super loose and my body was cracking (all on its own) all the time- everything is cracking! Neck, toes, shoulders, wrists, ankles, hips... It's like snap crackle pop around here these days! So while other people might eliminate sugar and grains for other reasons, this is my reason and the way I feel now it's motivating enough to continue to bail on cereal for breakfast in favor of a banana with almond butter.

So there you go! 8 Easy Steps! Simple eh? Ok, probably easier to just take care of yourself better in the first place so you don't end up in this mess having to take these measures. Lesson learned? I'd like to say yes but unfortunately I can be a moron at times when it comes to dealing with myself so we'll see. My hamstring is certainly not 100% yet but it's improved significantly over where it was 2 weeks ago and I am cautiously optimistic that I will be able to actually run train again at some point.

One month til Honu. Argh.


Christina Davis said...

This was a really helpful post. I have not hit the hammie wall yet, but I can tell it's coming if i don't change my ways! Will try to make some good changes, esp with regards to the exercise. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I'm going to start doing some of these (I mean I have started some, but this reminded me to do others).

Kiet said...

Like #2 hamstring pull with band, am gonna steal that one. I like how the old school peeps still call the race Honu even though it's officially Hawaii 70.3? I miss that race.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're on the right track and doing everything you can to fix the problem. Now just time and patience until you're body is healed. :/

Thank you for sharing everything you're doing. I'm going to check out that book and might also get a run analysis done. I have a chronic issue with my left leg that I'm pretty sure stems from my weak left ankle. So, since I'm not training a whole lot right now - this is the time that I should be addressing it - and so I WILL!

Finally, kudos to Moana!

rr said...

Your run-twin kicked my ass at Boston, though... Hope it's better soon!

Mermaid said...

thanks for the talk this morning, and for directing me to this blog posting...
time to fix my hamstring, and this is an awesome place to begin.