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Our 3 Favorite Exercises for Eccentrically Stretching the Hamstrings
In this article, you'll learn our 3 favorite eccentric exercises to stretch the hamstrings.
These three exercises are:
- Banded pull through
- Romanian deadlift (RDL)
- Single leg RDL
Research on eccentric loading in humans shows that eccentric loading of a muscle can increase fascicle length more than concentric training.
When doing mobility specific work, we want to include eccentrics.
Typically, if we did a mobility flow, we would incorporate some soft tissue work, followed by some unloaded stretching, and then concluded with eccentrics or some sort of functional movement (as eccentric training will be included in that).
For the purposes of this article, we are looking at 3 of our favorite exercises to use for the hamstrings for eccentric training to improve flexibility.
Before getting too far into this, if you are not familiar with the anatomy of the hamstrings, we recommend you read our article on the basic anatomy of stretching the hamstrings.
Exercise 1 - Banded Pull Through
The banded pull through can often be used as a warm up/primer movement before doing deadlifts or some other big hip hinge type of lift.
That's a great way to use it.
If you tweak some things, you can also use it as an eccentric exercise to work on your hamstring flexibility.
Here are the basics of how to do/coach this:
- Wrap a band of moderate weight around a pull or some fixed object, at ground height.
- Straddle the band and grab it
- Stand up, walk forward until you have a fair amount of tension in the band
- From here, brace the abdomen and hinge from the hips
- Think about reaching down and backward while maintaining upper back tension
- Go as far as you can, slowly, without rounding your back
- Return to the top
Typically we do this in sets of 10-15 reps.
The biggest mistakes when doing this are not reaching backward and also letting the back round.
The romanian deadlift is a progression from the banded pull through.
It's typically more spine load than the banded pull through since it'll be heavier and the angle change of the resistance.
By using a barbell instead of a pulley, we don't have the down and backward assistance of the resistance to guide motion. A good hip hinge is required before doing romanian deadlifts to ensure we are using a hip hinge pattern and not spine bending, otherwise we are missing out on the whole point of doing this drill.
Here is how to perform/coach this drill:
- Start with the weight in your hands, palms facing backward, standing tall
- Brace your abdomen
- Push your hips back and let your knees bend slightly
- As you bend forward, your chest should be dropping and hips moving backward
- Go as far as you can without your lower back round (you may need to video tape this to watch closely, the whole point is going as far as you can without rounding)
- Return to the standing position
- Repeat for 10-15 reps, trying to gain a little more depth and stretch each rep
Make sure when you are doing this that it's done slowly during the eccentric/lowering phase. That is why you are doing it this way, to get a long, slow, and deep eccentric.
Use light weight. This is not meant to be done heavy. The video is 95#. That is not a starting weight. A starting weight is an empty barbell.
Exercise 3 - Assisted Single Leg Deadlift
The single leg RDL is the most advanced of these exercises, primarily because it requires a lot of balance and control of your hip, ankle, and foot joint.
When done slowly and with a pretty straight knee (not completely locked out, but definitely trying to keep your knee back) it is a great eccentric hamstring stretch as well as control/concentration drill.
There are many ways to do single leg deadlifts. You can do them with a barbell, a dumbbell in each hand, or a dumbbell in one hand (typically opposite of the stance leg).
The way those are listed is also the order of challenge typically.
The rules for how to perform this are the same as the RDL, except you are standing on one leg.
The leg off the ground should be kept in line with the body. Some people prefer to keep it lower toward the ground. This tends to allow people to round their lower back more, which takes tension off the hamstring, which makes this less effective at stretching the hamstrings.
The hips often times become unlevel. We want them to stay level.
We have a more detailed explanation and instructions on the single leg deadlift that you can check out if you want more information.
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