One of my dear readers requested a post on tight hamstrings a while back. I wasn’t quite ready to geek out about hamstrings with all of you at the time, since I actually have quite a lot to say about hamstrings.
But I’m ready now. And you’re ready. We are all ready. So let’s get to those hammies!
First, let’s take a quick look at hamstring anatomy.
The hamstrings are made up of these three muscles and they are a part of the hip joint AND the knee joint. They attach onto your “sit bones” of the pelvis and the tibia and fibula of the lower leg. They mostly flex the leg at the knee joint and extend the thigh (pushing the leg back).
Here are a few considerations as to why your hamstrings might be tight and what do to about it.
The Dangers of Sitting
Go ahead and add tight hamstrings to the list of why sitting all day without taking regular movement breaks is dangerous.
When we sit with our knees are bent, it creates a shortening of the hamstring muscles. If we sit for most of the day; which a lot of us do if you count work, commuting, eating, relaxing; we are training the muscles to be tight!
And if we are only stretching them a few times a week, if that, our poor hammies don’t even stand a chance! Make sure that you take regular moving and stretching breaks throughout your day and in the morning and/or evening.
Also, especially if you are short like me, make sure your hamstrings aren’t getting overly compressed with sitting in your chair. Have a footstool if needed to bring the hamstrings off of the chair a little bit. Compression on the hamstrings is a major contributor to hamstring issues.
Look Around You
When there is any discomfort in the body, it’s important to take a look at what is happening around the muscles, for these muscles can hold the key to what could be going on with the area of pain.
For the hamstrings, it’s important to look at the hip flexors, low back, glutes, and calves.
If the hip flexors are tight, it’s causing the pelvis to tilt forward, thus causing the low back to shorten, thus causing the hamstring muscles to get pulled. But they are already shortened from sitting, so they start to scream from being pulled and it just turns into a big tug of war in your body.
And if surrounding muscles are weak, other ones get recruited to make up for it. The hamstrings tend to take the heat from a weak and unstable lower abdomen and low back. The moral of the story is that just doing some hamstring stretches are only going to get you so far. You must tend to the surrounding muscles, as well.
And I will give a particular shout out to stretching the inner thighs. They frequently get missed in a stretching routine, but must be released also if you want the hamstrings to loosen.
Ride The Train
The anatomy train, that is. The brilliant Tom Meyers has developed a myofascial philosophy called Anatomy Trains. He believes, along with myself and many others, that muscles are connected through these long bands of fascia, or connective tissue. These bands are all influencing each other and the muscles connected with these bands influence each other.
The superficial back line starts on the bottoms of your feet, heads up the calves, into the hamstrings, into the back muscles, then neck, then up and around the head, and ending above the eyebrows. Crazy, huh? But I have seen this connection to be true.
I’m taking the time to explain this because 1) I think it’s neat, but 2) it helps me explain that working the bottoms of the feet and calves will naturally loosen up the hamstrings. I’ve seen it so many times. And the hamstrings and calves connect around the knee joint (the calves above the joints and the hamstrings below), so it would make sense that one affects the other.
You can read about some of my favorite foot stretches HERE, but it can be as simple as rolling them over a tennis ball or soup can.
Blame Your Parents
An interesting fun fact that should not be overlooked is that the quality of our muscles and connective tissue can be due to genetics. Just like passing along bone structure and hair color, we also pass along muscle quality.
You can always improve with your mother gave you, but you don’t have to be so hard on yourself if certain body dysfunctions run in your family. And it’s more common than you think. I hear it all of the time from clients.
And it’s good to acknowledge the genetic aspect so you know what you are working with. You can be gentler with yourself and accept a slower progression of loosening up that area.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to stretch and nurture the hamstrings.
Legs Up The Wall is a very relaxing and low impact way of stretching the hamstrings and inner thigh.
Seated Forward Fold shown with different variations
Wide-legged Seated stretch
Pidgeon Pose with modifications