Why most calisthenics skills are IMPOSSIBLE with tight hamstrings

Why most calisthenics skills are IMPOSSIBLE with tight hamstrings

Do you need to bend your knees to the point that they make noise to pick some
thing off the ground? That’s probably because you’re struggling with hamstring tightness.

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Hamstrings are the set of muscles below the buttocks. Their main role is to help keep your posture upright. But they’ll also limit your range-of-motion if you don’t keep them loose and limber.

Why should I care if my hamstrings are tight?


1. You need to move!

Hamstring tightness typically occurs from lack of use. If you don’t move enough, your body naturally stiffens up. Imagine leaning forward to pick something off the ground. How much effort is it for you?

Having more flexible hamstrings will help you feel comfortable in your day-to-day movements.

Additionally, if you’re an athlete with tight hamstrings, you’ll be limited in the tricks you can accomplish. You can’t do an L-Sit with tight hamstrings.


2. Got joint pain?

The Stretching Exercises Guide tells us that the hamstring muscles wrap around the hips and the knees. Their role is to bend the knee and flex the hip. If your hamstrings are tight, they can limit your overall range-of-motion (ROM) and cause problems in both your hip and your knee joints.


3. Don’t be so stiff

As I mentioned before, the main role hamstrings play is to help you keep your upright posture. Because of that, they’re able to contract for long periods of time without fatiguing.

But…that also means that they tend to get stiff and shorten over time if they aren’t properly loosened. This will eventually reduce your ROM. If you don’t loosen your hamstrings, you’ll be stiff as a board (though definitely not light as a feather).

This happens all the more to us nowadays. We spend so much more time either sitting or standing, without putting our body through its true range-of-motion on a daily basis.

…unless you’re an athlete. Or a contortionist.

Too much sitting and not enough moving messes with the body’s natural balance.

Butt (gluteal) muscles will get weak from lack of use, and compensation through the hamstrings will occur. The body will engage the hamstrings and, basically, ruin your natural posture because it’s calling on all the wrong muscles.

It’s gonna hurt.

Help me loosen my hamstrings!

1. Stretch

The most important thing you can do is to stretch. It loosens the muscle and gives it a larger ROM.  Stretching also decreases lower back pain, improves performance, and reduces the risk of injury.

Doing just a few hamstring stretches every day can significantly improve a muscle’s flexibility.  

This study explains that the way you stretch will depend completely on what your goal is:

  • Do you want to become more flexible, or do you have range-of-motion issues? You need to use passive stretches.
  • Do you want to gain strength, or are you using stretches before working out? You need to use active stretches.

Passive stretches

A passive stretch means that you aren’t engaging any of your muscles to cause the stretch.

A good example of a passive hamstring stretch is the forward bend. You can do it sitting or standing:

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Lean forward, bend your knees a little if you need to, but don’t force the stretch. Just relax into it.

Active stretches

They’re the opposite of passive stretches. So instead of just letting the body stretch, an active stretch will use muscles to create the stretch.

A good example of an active hamstring stretch is the hamstring supine stretch:

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Lie on your back and keep your legs straight together. Bring one knee towards your chest, keeping the other leg straight, your ankle flexed (c.f. picture). Slowly extend the leg at a 90-degree angle from your body. Don’t push this stretch to the point of pain. It should feel a tad uncomfortable, but no more than that. Hold the stretch for as long as you can before bending your knee towards your chest once again and gently letting it return to the ground. Repeat the exercise with the other leg.

Hold the stretch for as long as you can before bending your knee towards your chest once again and gently letting it return to the ground. Repeat the exercise with the other leg.

2. Roll It Out

Foam-Rolling is a great way to loosen up tight muscles.

There’s no doubt that it’ll be painful the first go, but it’ll be worth it…you’re essentially giving yourself a massage. It increases blood flow through the body, decreases recovery time, increases range-of-motion, and relieves any tension in the muscles.

If you don’t have a foam roller, you can also use a tennis ball, or baseball for the same purpose.

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Just place the foam roller on your legs, between the buttocks and the knees. Raise your upper body from the ground, placing some of the weight on your hands. Make sure that the bulk of your body weight is on your hamstrings being worked over by the foam-roller.

3. Therapy

Massage Therapy
Massage therapy’s main purpose is to relax your muscles, which will help release any tension. It’ll help increase flexibility, improve blood circulation, and heal any muscle pain.

Physical Therapy
In my opinion, physical therapy should be your last resort.  If none of the other options work, think about undergoing physical therapy. Professional physiotherapists can help loosen and strengthen your hamstring muscles.

So get started!

Your hamstrings are definitely an important part of your body, so give ‘em some loving! Share your own tips and tricks with us, either in the comments or our Facebook group.

Watch your posture

Stretch your body

Play, move, don’t stay static!

Stay strong.

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Improve Flexibility, Decrease Joint Stiffness…The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Because calisthenics is not your normal “up the weight” training program, you will quickly realize just how important mobility and flexibility is for building your strength and calisthenics skills.

Here is why it is important:

Just imagine strength as horsepower in an engine…

….No matter how powerful, you can’t control it if your tires are worn out…

If you only focus on adding horsepower, you’ll end up with worn down breaks, broken interiors, and bald tires.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

This is a bad idea.

You are building your own death trap.

There are two ways it can go: 1. or you will end up not being able to use that horsepower 2. Or you will crash. Simple as that.

If you just kept on adding all the weight, more horsepower but I had no ability to control it in any way. When I weight lifted in the past, I had a lot of strength. However, I had a bad shoulder and a bad knee, and my back was hurting. It was only a matter of time until I seriously injured myself.

And this is where mobility and flexibility comes in.

If you want to get stronger, you need to build a base of fundamental strength, but you need more than just muscular strength. You also need:

  • Strong tendons and ligaments
  • Strong joints
  • Flexibility and mobility
  • Balance and stability
  • Control

You need to develop all the other fitness qualities and physical abilities to be able to handle your muscular strength safely.

Once you improve your brakes, tires, and interiors, we can add more horsepower. That enables you to improve your skills and perform more advanced movements. These skills will continue building on top of others for your constant improvement.. Because of that  all around aspect of calisthenics, you can actually build more strength than with just weightlifting!

Lack of calisthenics can not only hinder your progress, but can make it impossible to move forward. I quickly realized that my stiff joints were becoming a barrier in my success and it was time to take care of it. I dove into research on the topic; below is everything I have learned in the process of avoiding joint stiffness and increasing my overall range of motion.

What You Need to Know About Flexibility and Range of Motion

    • Strength and flexibility go hand-in-hand. You cannot attain success in your calisthenics program unless you have both strength and flexibility. In studying the essential body mechanics, we see that our muscles need to have the strength to be flexible. Notice that when you work out, your body does not let you go beyond a particular level of flexibility.  This is what is referred to as your range of motion. If you have no flexibility, you will have a limited range of motion, and thus reduced strength.
    • Weak joints can lead to injuries.  If the muscles stabilising a joint are weak, then this joint and the muscles associated with it are at risk for injury. This is an important aspect in your calisthenics training program. If you tend to have weak joints, then it is wise to start on the lighter end for your safety.

    To counter stiff joints and bring a drastic improvement in flexibility, try different types of stretches that target all the muscle groups. It is best to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, and consider two sets of each stretch for optimal results.  Follow along with the video below for an introduction to stretches.

When to Stretch in your Workout

Most of us are focused on warm-up exercises, and we tend to do different stretches as part of a warm-up session. Studies show that stretching is not considered to be part of a warm-up. Rather, your stretching should occur at the end of your workout when your muscles and joints are sufficiently warmed.  

Another ideal time to try out stretches is before bedtime, which helps to relieve some of the tension in your muscles at the end of the day. Stretching 30 minutes before bed can help your body ease all of the tension, and can help calm your nerves for effective sleep. Follow these easy tips to help improve your flexibility and to ease tension.

Another important aspect when looking to improve flexibility is to select the right stretches for you and your goals. For example, dynamic stretches are perfect for a warm-up session or before competitive activities. Static stretches are ideal for any post-workout routine, so this is something that any athlete can do in the gym to stretch the worked muscles.  Lastly, more advanced stretches (which brings the best results of all forms) is PNF.  This is an advanced way to stretch the muscles and joints, and should be done with a partner who knows what they are doing.

Clueless about static and PNF stretching? Let me explain more. Static stretching is a stretch without any movement. This means that you will be getting into your stretching position and then hold that position for a certain amount of time (roughly 30 seconds). Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) helps the body overcome resistance by using a contract/relax/stretch method. This cycle of tension and relaxation allows for deeper stretches and improved range of motion. Thisis considered the most advanced stretching method around. With PNF stretching and long-hold static stretching, we can get results on a permanent basis.

Important Tips to Improve Joint Stiffness

Now that we have gone through some tips, let’s look at some practical activities that can help to relieve joint stiffness and help us to prepare for calisthenics.

Upper body activities:

    • Head: Stand or sit and face forward. Your arms should be at your side, and your shoulders need to be square. Your head should be  turned to one side. We need to hold in this position for 30 seconds and then slowly face forward. Now we need to start turning to the other side. We need to look up and then look down. Your head needs to be rotated clockwise first, and then counter-clockwise.  Do all of these for 30 seconds each.
    • Triceps: Bring one arm up in the air and bend your elbow so that your hand is behind your body.  Bring your other hand up to your bent elbow above and slowly lower your arms behind your body.  Hold this position for 30 seconds and switch arms.
    • Shoulders: Reach one arm across your body towards your other shoulder.  Bring your other arm underneath that extended arm and hold that stretch for 30 seconds.  Switch arms and repeat.
    • Trunk: Your hands need to be placed on your hips, then start to bend at your waist to the left. Then straighten up and bend to the right.

Lower body activities:

    • Legs: Sit in a chair. Extend one leg out in front and place your foot on the ground. Slowly reach your hands down your legs towards your toes while keeping your legs as straight as possible.
    • Hips: Your hips need to be rocked from side to side; the weight needs to be on one hip and then shifted to your other hip.
    • Torso: While sitting, twist to one side and attempt to look over one shoulder.  Repeat on the other side.  Hold each stretch for 30 seconds each.
    • Calves/Thighs: Stand up and face the wall. Straighten one leg out back behind your body. Your palms should be pressed against the wall, and you need to feel the stretch by leaning forward into the wall. The stretch should be felt on your calves and thighs. You need to hold this position for about 30 seconds, and then switch sides and repeat.

If you try out these tips and exercises, you will really be able to prepare yourself for calisthenics like I did.  These tips are ideal for improving flexibility to gain a better range of motion, and subsequently to gain better strength.

Do you have a favorite mobility routine? Share in the comments!