Lots of people come in to my fitness bootcamp classes with super-tight hamstrings.
Even if you’re dedicated about stretching at home (you are stretching in your spare time, right?) you might still be bothered by tight hammies.
It might even seem like flexibility is something some people have, and other people don’t – especially if you’re one of the inflexible ones.
What’s up with that? Is it true that some people are just born more flexible? Well, yeah :p
But you can get a LOT more flexible if you really do want to…
A couple of things might be making your hamstrings tight:
- Lack of hip mobility
- Poor training
- Tight hamstrings!
Now, some strategies that I use in my bootcamp to loosen up those hamstrings.
The first thing you need to look at is if your hamstrings are really the problem. If you have to sit a lot during the day (in a desk or car). Your calves cross your knee like your hamstrings and so tight calves can make it hard to keep your knees straight when you stretch. And sitting a lot can affect your pelvic tilt which affects how you bend when you stretch.
Or you might have scar tissue on your fascia (the “skin” of your muscles) that is pulling tight.
Or maybe you have problems with your lower back. When this is the case you might notice that stretching exercises really hit your back and hips, but don’t seem to touch your legs at all.
So tight hamstrings may just be the symptom of some other problem, far beyond just a lack of flexibility.
Since so much can be going on, today’s post will be a few tips to get you started in the right direction (If you want a more in-depth assessment, my friend Dr. Brian Russell is phenomenal at treating any joint or muscle problem you might have. Here’s his website: Carson City Chiropractor)
Hamstring Tip #1: No Forcing
Stretching too forcefully can invoke your muscles’ “stretch reflex”, where the muscle actually tightens during a stretch. This is a protective mechanism to prevent injury.
Another problem with forcing a stretch is that you may not be aligned correctly due to injuries, poor posture, or improper training. Forcing a stretch from a bad position is a recipe for making things worse.
Stretch slowly and focus on deep even breathing. After about 30 seconds, you should feel yourself relax into the stretch – this is where flexibility will improve.
Hamstring Tip #2: Stretch Hamstrings Last
As I mentioned above, other muscles may be holding your hamstrings back.
Stretch your hips, calves, shins, and quads. Then GENTLY stretch your back. After this, go on to stretch your hamstrings.
You will be surprised at how much more flexible your hamstrings become with this method!
Hamstring Tip #3: Self Massage
Self massage is a way of breaking down the scar tissue in your fascia. When this scar tissue is relaxed, your muscles will be able to move much more smoothly.
Your hamstrings are part of what we movement therapists call the Posterior Chain. Here’s a pic:
Massaging any of the areas in this posterior chain should help relax your hamstrings and improve flexibility. Perhaps the most important area to massage for hamstring flexibility is…. your feet!
Seriously, I’ve seen range of motion in the hamstring stretch DOUBLE from two minutes of tennis ball rolling on the bottom of your feet. Here’s how:
And here’s vids of basic self massage for other areas that may be holding your hamstrings back:
Don’t forget to massage your hamstrings too! Turn your feet inside and out to hit the whole muscle group:
Hamstring Tip #4: Knee Bend
Some knee bend is actually ok if you’re trying to stretch your hamstrings.
The reason for this is that a bit of flexion will take most of the calf out of the hamstring stretch, allowing you to hit the hammies better.
Use the knee bend tip if you feel hamstring stretches in the backs of your knees instead of the backs of your thighs.
Hamstring Tip #5: Use A Full Range Of Motion
After all this stretching and foam rolling, you want to make sure you keep whatever new flexibility and mobility you build.
The secret to this is to use full range of motion exercises in your workouts. Short range of motion activities like cycling or running will keep your hamstring shortening back up, since they don’t require a full range of motion.
Basically, you need to teach your body to incorporate this new flexibility into how it moves. This is the key to maintaining your flexibility progress.
Now, if you have tight hamstrings, these five tips will definitely start you off on the path to flexibility!