Updated: Apr 26
Part 7 of the Down Dog series is about the hamstrings, calves and this shitty little muscle right behind the knee. Several reasons why people want their legs straight in down dog: -they feel a stretch and it may feel good -they think their legs are suppose to be straight b:c everyone else has their legs straight and so does the instructor. - they don’t remember how the instructor set them up b/c this takes practice I encourage my classes to move around in down dog to get some of these superficial tightnesses out of the way. When it come time to be “still” in the pose I’m a bit more adamant about length through the spine, which does mean for a lot of people that the knees are bent. It doesn’t mean the pose is wrong if they are bent. The spine, neck, shoulder, wrists are far more important than a stretch in the hamstrings. While it feels like a nice release you’re not doing anything productive. If the legs are straight but the back is rounded the load transfer through spine is not ideal and most of the load (stress) that the legs are suppose to be taking will be taken up by the wrists and shoulders and neck. Students either want to put the effort in for how the pose should look for them or they don’t. The instructor either knows or they don’t. Down dog and chaturangas don’t damage the body it’s the person not knowing how to perform strength movements and the instructor doesn’t know either. Now some ppl are coming in with pre-existing issues in the wrist and shoulders. They need to tell us. I can usually sort that out teaching proper strength position or in addition doing some Pdtr. Sometimes the pose is out!
I know this is a lot of anatomy but if you can’t get your legs straight whether in down dog or any other position then suspect the attachments crossing the knee joint. Most people go after the hamstring crossing at the hip joint. Stretching here does not help the attachments at the knee. Simply b/c there are different muscles here. Take note of the dominant position people are in all day—Seated! You are flexed at the hips and flexed at the knee. These muscles are adaptively shortening and tightening. While the glutes, hamstrings at hip attachment, knee extensors are going to sleep Theses muscles should be stretched and then strengthened separately. Down dog while predominantly a strength pose with flexibility opportunities is not a place to try a stretch the hamstrings or calves effectively. This will be person dependent as well. Even though I fit that profile for down dog; I still get better results doing separate stretches and strength. Down dog is a gross stretch of the back side. Once the torso passes 45 degrees of trunk flexion and lumbar spine is about ready to move into flexion you are no longer emphasizing the upper hamstrings and becomes a gross stretch of back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. I will do a video of how I teach this in class. While i do flows I easily will stop class to teach this and then move on. They do appreciate this b/c next time they know and may practice this at home or before class. It’s awesome to see when the learn and take it home with them. That is the point!!!
Let’s dig into the anatomy a little for the hamstrings, calves and into popliteus. It’s one thing to know the muscles and where they are which is simply geography and know how they interact with each other. Depending on what you’re reading depends on how many muscles make up the hamstring group. There are 5 muscles that make up the hamstring group 1. Biceps femoris, long head; attachments crosses 2 joints; origin: ischial tuberosity; insertion at the head of fibula; actions hip extension, hip lateral rotation, and knee flexion; knee lateral rotation 2. Biceps femoris, short head; attachments crosses 1 joint; origin: linea aspera; insertion: head of fibula 3. Semimembranosus; attachments crosses 2 joints; origin: ischial tuberosity; insertion: posterior condyle of tibia; actions: hip extension, hip medial rotation, knee flexion, knee medial rotation 4. Semitendinosus; attachments crosses 2 joints; origin: ischial tuberosity; insertion: pes anserine on medial tibia; actions: hip extension, hip medial rotation, knee flexion, knee medial rotation 5. Adductor Magnus is considered the 5th hamstring b:c of the proximity to the hamstrings. The posterior head has an origin at the ischial ramus and ischial tuberosity; anterior head has insertion at the entire linea aspera (i did not give full origin and insertion for anterior or posterior head, go look it up 😊); I’m only giving actions that are synergistic with hamstrings. There are synergistic movements associated with hip flexors; hip lateral rotation, hip extension; hip medial rotation Popliteus actions are knee flexion and medial rotation; origin to lateral condyle of femur; insertion at posterior proximal tibia
While I didn’t mention Plantaris it too sits behind the knee with origin at lateral supercondylar of femur and crosses the ankle. It’s actions are knee flexion and plantarflexion. If this is tight (which is probably is) you will have trouble straightening out the leg Gastrocnemius origin lateral and medial condyle of femur; insertion calcaneous via the calcaneal tendon and It’s actions are knee flexion and plantarflexion.
In the next blog I'll post the 2 videos of how I teach hamstring stretching to capture this area.