Exercise of the Week – Hamstring PAILs/RAILs
Almost every person I know complains that he/she has tight hamstrings. The question is: what does that even mean? My hamstrings are too tight for Fill in the Blank . Again, almost to a person, I hear, “Look, I can’t touch the ground when I fold forward.” To that I ask, “Why do you want to touch the ground when you fold over?” We could carry on like this, but I think you get my drift.
Your hamstrings only need to be loose enough for you to be able to accomplish what it is that you want to accomplish. If you are a yogi, you might really want hands down in a forward fold (still, though, why?) But if you are a football player, do you really need that much hamstring flexibility? I would ask you to identify the activities that tight hamstrings keep you from completing, and then we can figure out how to proceed.
NEWSFLASH: It is likely not your hamstrings, at all, that is keeping you from your goals. It is likely a low-back issue that needs to be addressed so that we can even get into the hamstrings to work on lengthening the distance between the connectors. And that gets us to the exercise of the week.
Notice that as I fold forward, I am doing so with a straight spine. I am actually keeping my spine neutral and hinging at the hips to lean forward. Think of your heart with Cupid’s arrow sticking out the front, and shoot that arrow over your toes into the wall ahead of you. You are going to do that by continuing to pull your heart forward aiming at that wall the whole time.
For 2 minutes…….yes, a whole 2 minutes…….keep hinging forward in that way to find your greatest passive range hold. Follow the cues in this video to move into progressive articular isometric loading (PAILs) and then regressive articular isometric loading (RAILs). Remember that an isometric contraction, by definition, means that a muscle fires but there is no movement from the joints. So you won’t actually move when you are doing PAILs/RAILs……you’re just trying to.
Since PAILs/RAILs is a big part of the way I teach these days, I want you to be familiar with them and know that you are doing them correctly. So, try this. Instead of following my cue to stay as far forward as you can while trying to pull your foot to the ceiling; do the opposite. Sit back a little and see how easy it is to lift your foot off. Now, did you gain anything from that? Did you feel a stretch of any kind? No, you just lifted your leg. But that’s not the point. The point is to achieve a lengthening of the hamstring. So keep your heart moving forward. Don’t back out. And then try to lift. There will be no movement; isometrically contract. Get the good stretch in.
Finally, repeat for a second round. Now, on round 2 you do not need to hold for 2 minutes. A 30 second hold should suffice. Then go through the PAILs/RAILs as the video cues you for a second time.
Don’t forget that you have two legs. As painful as it may be, switch legs and go through this whole exercise on the opposite side.
Perform this exercise every day this week. Perform it every day for a month if you really feel like your hamstrings are holding you back. Let me know if you feel some improvement. Take a picture to prove it, if you are so inclined.
Tell me how it goes for you this week. Send me an email if you have a need you think I might be able to address. I will do my best. Send me an email if you want to work with me. I have room for private clients.
Let’s get better at everything…….together. Until next week.