This week, I had planned to focus on Hamstrings and Quadriceps. It turns out we only focused on our hamis, paying close attention to lengthening and strengthening them. Next week, we will take a closer look at our quadriceps then!
Saying that we only focused on our hamstrings wouldn’t be completely right either as these two groups of muscles actually work very closely together. Indeed, when we contract our hamstrings, the quadriceps have to relax and stretch and the other way around. When we bend our knee, the hamstrings muscles work to make this action possible (there are the agonists in this case). Then when we straighten our knee, the hamstrings had to relax and stretch to allow the movement directed by the quadriceps (the quads then become the agonists in this motion of extending the knee). So the agonist is the one that’s going to do the job that we want to see happening (bend the knee) but for that to happen his better-half (or the antagonists) has to relax and let go. They switch role so we can move!
Then, If I want to stretch my hamstrings more, then I have to get the quadriceps on board by engaging them. This is what we have practised and what yoga teachers often cue as ‘lift you kneecaps’. This action of lifting the kneecaps is actually the action of straightening the knee more, then contracting the quads. If the quads are contracted, then the body sends a signal to the brain to relax its better-half, the hamstrings. This process is called reciprocal inhibition and is used extensively during a yoga practise to allow different muscle groups to help one an other in their work. If the practitioner stays focused enough to keep those action going on then his/her practice will greatly benefit from it. Focus and consistency in maintaining the muscular engagement are the keys!
Remember what we did to get that into our bodies; here are a few things that we practised
- Stretching the hamstrings and calf lying down on or back with a strap around the foot, engaging the quads by lifting the kneecaps (Supta Paddaangusthasana)
- On all 4, bend one knee and keep the foot plantar flexed the pulsing up and down – hello hamstrings and hello glute max too!
- Work with the wall and strap to get the stretches deeper
- Refine our downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) by bending the knees and lifting the heels so our sitting bones stretches to the sky, hence lengthening the hamis.
This last point brings us to some important anatomical points:
The hamstrings are actully a group of three muscles: the biceps femoris, semi-tendinosus and semi-membranosus. They origin on our sitting bones (or ischio tuberosities) – which are the two bony parts that you feel in your glutes (buttocks) when you sit down and roll your glutes back. They inserts on our tibia and fibula, the bones in the lower leg. Knowing that is pretty cool as we understand better the constant cueing given about ‘stretch your sitting bones up or back’, depending on the pose. If we can find the movements in our body that will allow the sitting bones to move away from the back of the knee, then we are going to be able to lengthen more the hamstrings! Keep your kneecaps up to engage your quads and tadaaaa, happy hamis!
I know, I sound very happy and excited writing this but it’s because the human body is truly amazing and I can’t help but be in awe of this complicated machinery that we get to have. And sometimes, being in awe of ourselves, and of everyone else’s is just what we need to bring happiness and gratefulness into our lives. I love my job and I’m reminded every day of how lucky we are to have such amazing bodies…
Love your body, not because you’re super self-centered, but because you only have one and it does work pretty well. It will work even better if you look after it and you learn about it; so come to your weekly yoga classes and practice at home too, you will feel the difference!