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Hamstrings, Suboccipitals, and Running Speed | Boddicker Performance

Filed under: corrective exercise, Manual Therapy

Hamstrings, Suboccipitals, and Running Speed

by on Nov 2nd, 2010

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In the past three months nearly every athlete I assess who is DN on their toe touch pattern remarks just how tight their hamstrings are.  While this may be part of the picture, it is not the Gestalt, which you know already if you’ve been around the industry for any period of time so I will not rehash it here in great detail.

We know that manual or self-massage to the plantar fascia can improve to touch patterns without even approaching the hamstrings, we know that the cervical spine also plays a very large role as it is a hub for many pieces of the tensegrity network so work in that area may be a “big bang for your buck” area in attempting to find the reset for toe touch patterns.  Pollard and Ward in 1997 for example demonstrated that simple PNF to the suboccipital crowd resulted in a 13% gain in mobility at the hip whereas hamstring stretching only regained 9% of the arc.

The hamstrings are additionally important in running gait and can influence via both joints upon which they act how efficiently the swing leg moves and how powerfully the stance leg can propel you.

These are things you already know.

What you may also wonder is if there is a reciprocal or at minimum some connection between the hamstrings and suboccipitals and the hamstrings influence running performance in a few ways, can the suboccipitals do the same?  Perhaps this snippet from famed manual therapist Robert Schleip may shed some light on that idea:

…a verbal report I heard from Hubert Godard about an interesting research in Italy: runners on a treadmill would unconsciously increase their running speed when a bioelectrical device on their neck lowered the tonus of the upper neck muscles. Whereas increasing the tonus of these muscles made them slow down their speed, although they were not aware of this and perceived their speed as constant. So a stiff occiput-neck connection will tend to ‘put a break’ into the legs via shortening of the hamstrings, and a long and loose occiput-neck connection will take ‘the break out’ by lengthening the midrange of hamstring length and will make the legs swing much faster and easier.

Robert Schleip

How significant this is I am unsure at this time, however, it’s one more thing to consider with the “what else” methodology. Perhaps restrictions in the cervical spine are costing you seconds or minutes depending on your race distance while also potentially becoming problematic in the long run.


Carson Boddicker

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Leave a Comment »10 Comments
  • Nick Efthimiou November 3, 2010

    While not sub-occipitals, I’m doing my Masters thesis on comparing the effect of hamstring stretching to cervical manipulation on jaw opening. So is it possible to share the reference for the Pollard and Ward article?

  • Carson Boddicker November 3, 2010


    Two papers on that subject and one on your thesis topic you might enjoy:

    Aparicio EQ, Quirante LB, Blanco CR, Sendín FA. “Immediate Effects of the Suboccipital Muscle Inhibition Technique in Subjects with Short Hamstring Syndrome.” Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 32.4 (2009): 262-69.

    Oliveira-Campelo NM, Rubens-Rebelatto J, Martí N-Vallejo FJ, Alburquerque-Sendí N F, Fernández-de-Las-Peñas C. “The Immediate Effects of Atlanto-occipital Joint Manipulation and Suboccipital Muscle Inhibition Technique on Active Mouth Opening and Pressure Pain Sensitivity over Latent Myofascial Trigger Points in the Masticatory Muscles.” Journal of Orthopaedic and Sport Physical Therapy 40.5 (2010): 310-17. Print.

    Pollard H, Ward G. “A Study of Two Stretching Techniques for Improving Hip Flexion Range of Motion.” Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 20.7 (1997): 443-47.

  • Nick Efthimiou November 4, 2010

    Thanks very much.

  • Joerg Schumacher November 27, 2010

    it’s not really surprising that the suboccipitals affect the hamstrings in a way like the plantar fascia does. both the plantar fascia and the suboccipitals are located in the opposing ends of the superficial back line from anatomy trains.

    and if i am recalling it correctly: in paul chek’s world the suboccipital-atlantal and the atlanto-axial joint are the master joints to all other (slave) joints in the body.

  • Carson Boddicker November 27, 2010


    Indeed they are, and that is why this is an interesting piece. I’m not sure the speed aspect in running is related to tensegrity directly, though, in a soon to follow review when I get myself in gear, I’ll cover some newer literature on the concept as it relates to muscle activity and movement. Lengthwise, though, it’s not a surprise. I always find that the tennis ball roll of the plantar fascia toe-touch trick to be one that is overused and about the only thing AT that most fitness folk really talk about from that book. I’m content for those without a manual license of some kind to keep that but it is definitely applicable.

    As to Chek’s notion, I believe he’s right (as he so often is). We can connect the dots between dysfunctions at the OA and AA joints with both bottoms up issues like subtalar dysfunction (a commonly cited one by Gary Gray and his bunch) and top down as in Zink’s patterns. Do you happen to have any suggestions as to where I can locate some of Chek’s work discussing this information?

    Carson Boddicker

  • Alonso March 11, 2011

    Dear Carson:

    can you give me any reference about plantar fascia and hamstring length?


  • Carson Boddicker March 11, 2011


    Check Anatomy Trains, superficial back line. I’m not sure there is any research, but practice based evidence certainly supports it. Mike Boyle’s Functional Strength Coach also has a video of an entire group using tennis ball foot rolling to improve toe touch if you want to see it in action.

    Carson Boddicker

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