A few of you have mentioned about having tight hamstrings – this may be a surprise, but stretching might not be the answer! You have 3 hamstring muscles that run up the back of your thighs, the semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris. Your hamstring muscles are responsible for knee flexion (pulling your heels to your buttocks) and hip extension (driving your upper leg backwards).
Before stretching your hamstrings it is important to ask why these muscles get tight in the first place. Like with most things, it is important to address the cause of the problem rather than the symptom. Nothing in the body works in isolation, everything is connected.
Here are 3 of the main causes for tight hamstrings:
# 1 – Too Much Sitting
If you spend most of your time sitting then the legs remain bent for the majority of time. When the legs are bent the hamstrings are slackened off. If you remain in this seated position for too long then the body will draw in the slack from the hamstrings. Later when you come to stand and straighten the legs your hamstrings will feel tighter. Your body is a master adapter, if you sit down all day your body will adapt to sitting!
Solution: I think you probably know the answer to this one already. Spend more time standing up with your legs straightened. Set a timer on your computer and get up and walk around every 50 minutes. We are not designed to sit down for long periods of time so don’t do it – nothing good will come of it! To help actively lengthen your hamstrings perform 5 Yoga squats (or I call then sumo squats, ass to grass) as often as possible. Work on getting deeper into the movement as time progresses.
# 2 – Tight Quads
If the front of your thighs or quadriceps are tight due to incorrect recruitment of your buttocks and/or incorrect workout programming, then this can affect your hamstrings.
Your quadriceps attach to the bottom of the front of your pelvis. If these muscles are shortened through tightness then they will actively rotate your pelvis forwards lengthening the hamstrings. So although your hamstrings may feel tight they may actually just be long and weak. Your pelvis is the muscle attachment site for both the front thigh muscles (quadriceps) and back thigh muscles (hamstrings). If this is the case then you would be better off stretching your quadriceps and strengthening (no stretching) your hamstrings. If you did stretch your hamstrings then you will make the problem worse because you provide yet more slack for the quads to reel in.
Solution: Stretch your quadriceps more often. Little and often is better than only once now and again. A very simple quad stretch that is often performed incorrectly involves taking hold of your one foot, while standing, and pulling your heel to your buttocks. Once in the stretched position squeeze your buttocks tight and rotate your pelvis upwards while keeping the knee pointing downwards. To encourage your quad stretches to stick perform a hamstring strengthening exercise immediately after your stretch. The single leg deadlift is the perfect exercise to practice after your quad stretch.
# 3 – Weak Core Muscles
Your core muscles, including your abs attach to the pelvis too. When you walk or run your pelvis needs to stay still in order to provide a stable platform for your legs to operate under. If your pelvis wobbles around, like it does on most sedentary people these days, then you risk injuring your lower back as well as other areas throughout your kinetic chain.
Good core muscles that activate correctly are vital for maintaining pelvic stability. If your core and abdominal muscles are not doing their job correctly then your hamstrings will help to stabilise your pelvis. When the hamstrings are sharing the load with the core muscles they will not only tighten, but also reduce their efficiency at what they are primarily designed to do. Regular hamstring injuries can be due to weak core and abs muscles!
Solution: Strengthening and improving your core muscles and their ability to activate correctly will enable your hamstring to get back to the job they were designed to do.
Just performing hundreds of crunches or sit ups is not the solution here. You need to actively train your pelvis to stabilise during movement. I demonstrate how to improve your inner and outer core and develop your pelvic core stability in my TVA Strengthening workouts on my website.
Stretching your hamstrings may not be the solution for your tight hamstrings. Like most things finding the root cause of the problem is vital rather than just attacking the symptom. If you do suffer from tight hamstrings then you may want to consider your lifestyle, quad muscles and core muscles before leaping into stretching alone.