Basically, I have poor hamstring extensibility.
The test I have used for this is to put my feet together lock my back in lumbar extension and bow forward with my knees locked. I get to just above 45 degree from the horizontal.
I am concerned that this may be causing problems with my DL and Squat. I was missing a few DLs, usually with my back losing extension in later reps. Also on squats I buttwink, but also I really don’t feel the bounce at all, which could be another problem all together.
The short run would be: is poor hamstring extensibility a big deal? Do you find it inhibits your trainees DL & squats? Are things like barbell assistance (RDL, SLDL) exercises better than good ol’ stretching?
I appreciate any words you can muster.
Hamstring extensibility is the same thing as flexibility. A good definition of flexibility is
having sufficient range of motion (ROM) around major joints to meet the demands of every day activities as well as any other activities that are participated in. This means that flexibility is relative to the individual and what they do. For example, I like to strength train and compete in Olympic weightlifting, therefore I should be sufficiently flexible for both. I am not, however, a gymnast/dancer/ninja, and therefore do not need the flexibility to do a split for any reason.
The hamstrings are a group of muscles on the back of the thigh that always get a bad rap of “being tight”. While it’s true that it is farily common to have inflexible hamstrings, it isn’t as big a problem as it has been made out to be. The squat (AKA low bar back squat to those of you who aren’t familiar with Starting Strength) is a wonderful exercise to stretch the hamstrings.
The hamstrings attach at the ischial tuberosity (on the bottom of the pelvis) and wrap around the knee (condyles of the tibia, head of the fibula, etc.). When you squat properly (reference the squat chapter of Starting Strength), you set your knees by pushing them out, which angles the femurs parallel with the feet, and then you sit back with your hips so that the hamstrings (and adductors) are stretched out. These are requirements for the “bounce” to occur out of the bottom of the squat. Each time you do a full ROM squat, it is like a PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretch. A PNF stretch is essentially placing a muscle in a position in which it will elongate while intermittently contracting the muscle to improve flexibility (for more).
The problem is that you must do the squat correctly and through a full range of motion, and not everyone is capable of teaching themselves this complex movement (it is one of the hardest lifts to master). If you consider yourself to have poor hamstring flexibility, then you need to first think about shoving your knees OUT and then sitting BACK. If it feels normal, then you’re doing it incorrectly. If you have never felt a full stretch on your adductors and hamstrings, you should know the first time you do.
Another factor with squatting/deadlifting and hamstring flexibility is that it may take you a few sets to get the muscles warm enough to go through the correct ROM. In such a case, you should make sure to incorporate a general warm-up and extra warm-up sets into your training session.
I’ve never had a problem with getting anyone to do a full ROM squat the first time that I teach them, and Rip has always said it is never a problem at all of the seminars he has done over the past few years. The best solution is to find someone that can coach you whether it be at a gym locally or at a seminar (the Starting Strength Seminars are utilized for reasons like this all the time).
Until you have squatted correctly, it is a waste of time to try anything else to loosen up your hamstrings. The squat will not only improve hamstring flexibility, but it will also (re)teach the hamstrings how to undergo a stretch reflex and also strengthen the muscles throughout the full ROM.
As for Cormac’s lack of extension in his back on his deadlifts, I don’t have enough information to have an opinion. He could be using bad form, is really skinny, attempting too much weight, or is doing everything correctly and having the natural curvature of the back on a heavy set of five. However, judging from his seeming hamstring inflexibility, I place the fault on the form on both his squat and deadlift.
The butt wink he references is over-hyped, and this is probably due to the CrossFit community branding it in their “air squat”. A butt wink is not that big of a deal assuming the squat is otherwise done correctly. It may even be anthropometry that looks like a butt wink — people that have a long pelvis and short torso will appear to be rounding their low back when it is actually the iliac crests of their pelvis. Besides, if the butt wink exists because of inflexibility, proper squatting will make it subside and disappear over time.
Again, a proper warm-up and squatting can cure common hamstring inflexibility and trying anything else is a waste of time until these are addressed. Barring any limiting pathology, the inflexible will become flexible.