Effective Exercises to Get Rid of Tight Hamstrings
Learn how to get rid of those frustrating tight hamstrings.
As an athlete, chances are you will have experienced pain in the back of your thigh and lower buttock at some point when walking or exercising. More often than not, this suggests that your hamstrings are overloaded and tight.
But why do the hamstrings get tight, and how can you get rid of it and never have it occur again? Let’s find out.
The hamstrings are a group of three large muscles - the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and the biceps femoris - that attach to the hip bone and the upper part of the calf bone. All three muscles run along the back of the thigh, crossing both the hip and knee joints. This group of muscles helps to bend the knees and move the hips backward; therefore, they are integral in simple day-to-day activities such as walking, jumping, squatting, and running.
As an athlete, you engage in these activities more frequently than a non-athlete, and typically in greater intensities. Hence, your hamstrings muscles are susceptible to overstretching and tightening. This is usually the case when you don’t warm up properly before and after performing your athletic activities.
In non-athletes, the reverse is often the case. Sitting for too long at your workplace keeps your knee bent and the front of your pelvis pulled forward for a long time. This leaves your hamstring in a shortened position for that long, causing them to tighten.
What problems might arise from a tight hamstring?
If you have tight hamstrings, you already know that the muscles will function below their full capacity and since all the muscles and joints of your body function interconnectedly, the tight hamstrings will only cause other muscles and joints to function poorly or overcompensate for the dysfunctional hamstrings. Consequently, your hips and pelvis may rotate backward and flatten, leading to back problems including pain and discomfort.
Furthermore, continuing to stretch your tight hamstrings make them prone to tears and other injuries. Even when these have healed up, it amplifies your risk of having the muscles tighten all over again.
So how do you treat or prevent tight hamstrings?
Flexibility is the keyword - keep your hamstring muscles flexible. This means keeping them at their normal length during and after routine or athletic activities. You can achieve this using any of the following techniques.
Foam Rolling Exercises
Foam rolling your hamstrings is a simple way of keeping them flexible and functioning properly. This, in turn, relieves tightness and soreness. However, be careful - because if you have not used a foam roller before, you might feel sore for a couple of days following your first use.
Here are steps to follow to effectively foam roll your hamstrings. Note that you can do this one leg at a time or both legs simultaneously.
Foam rolling both legs at the same time:
- Sit on the ground with your thighs on the foam roller.
- Place your hands flat on the ground behind you such that your weight is supported by your hands and roller. If your wrists are weak, you may need to make fists rather than placing your hands flat on the ground.
- Slowly roll back and forth till you detect the trigger point in your hamstring. Once you identify this area, maintain pressure on it for 20 to 30 seconds. Then gently roll back and forth several times again, but this time, over the painful area.
- Repeat the process throughout all the trigger points until you begin to feel relief.
Foam rolling with one leg a time
- Sit on the ground and place your foam roller directly under one thigh.
- Keep the other leg bent with your knee flexed at 90 degrees and the foot flat on the ground.
- Place your hands flat behind you (Again, if you have weak or sensitive wrists, you can make fists instead) and push up gently so that your hands and stabilizing foot support your weight.
- Slowly roll your thigh over the foam roller back and forth until you identify the trigger point. Once you have detected a trigger point, maintain pressure on it for 20 to 30 seconds to one minute. Then roll back and forth several times over the painful area.
- Repeat the process throughout all trigger points on your hamstrings.
- Repeat the entire process for the other leg.
You can also foam roll your hamstrings sitting on a bench or a seat. Here’s how to do it
- Place the foam roller on top of the bench just close to its edge.
- Sit on the bench, with your leg draped over the roller so that it lies directly under your hamstring muscles.
- Keep the foot rotated inward, with the other leg far behind to stabilize you.
- Gently roll your thigh back and forth over the roller until you can detect the trigger point, then put pressure onto the area. Then roll back and forth again over the painful area.
- Repeat the process throughout all trigger points.
- Repeat the entire process for the other leg.
Foam rolling provides both compression and stretching forces to the muscle fibers, increasing blood flow to them. This loosens the tightened muscles and relieves the soreness.
You may feel discomfort the first few times you perform the foam rolling exercises but as you progress, the pain and discomfort resolve and the process becomes more of a maintenance stretch.
While stretching may not come off as a great idea when your hamstrings are already tight from overstretching, there are certain stretch techniques that can loosen them up.
Lying Hamstring Stretch
Here are the steps to perform this:
- Lie on the ground with your back flat on it.
- Keep both knees flexed so that your feet are flat on the ground.
- Gently raise your right knee, bringing it toward your chest: extend your leg slowly while you do this.
- You may use a yoga strap to guide your stretch
- Hold the stretched leg for 10 seconds and move it up and down for another 30 seconds.
- Repeat the process for the other leg.
There is another variation to this:
- Lie down on the ground or a flat surface with your back flat and both legs stretched out. For this stretch, you need to lie close to a wall or raised platform.
- Raise your right leg with the knee slightly bent, then place your feet against the wall.
- Gently straighten the right leg against the wall until you feel a stretch in your hamstring
- Hold that position for 10 seconds, then move up and down for another 30 seconds.
- Repeat the process for the left leg.
You can also stretch your hamstrings in a seating position. Here’s how.
- Get two chairs and have them face each other.
- Sit on one chair and place your right leg stretched out on the other chair.
- Lean forward slowly until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Allow your right knee to bend slowly as you move.
- Once you feel this, pause and hold the stretch for 10 seconds.
- Move forward and backward continuously for 30 seconds.
Hamstring curl, or leg curl, is an excellent way of strengthening your hamstring muscles and then some: it strengthens your glutes, relieves tight quad muscles and stabilizes your knee. Here are different curl techniques for your hamstrings:
Prone Hamstring Curl
To do a prone hamstring curl, follow these steps:
- Lie face down on the ground or a flat surface, with a resistance band tied around one heel and anchored to a firm object.
- Keep the other leg free but still on the ground.
- Bend your knee to pull the tied heel toward your butt, with your thighs and hips still flat on the ground.
- Continue to pull till the band resists further motion.
- Return to the starting position and repeat the process.
- Repeat the sequence for 12 to 15 times.
As you get stronger, you may use a heavier resistance or no resistance at all.
Seated Hamstring Curl
This is also done with a resistance band but, in this case, both legs may be tied. To do the seated hamstring curls, follow the steps below:
- Anchor a resistance band to a firm, heavy object such as a piece of furniture.
- Sit in front of the anchor object, with the band looped around one heel (you could also loop it around both)
- Bend your knee to pull your heel backward and stop when you can’t pull any further.
- Extend your knee to return to the starting position.
- Repeat the process 12 to 15 times.
- If you did this for one leg only, repeat the process for the other leg.
Hamstring curl with a ball
This technique uses a stability ball to lift your hips off the floor and legs and move them back and forth.
To do this type of curl, follow these steps:
- Lie on your back and place your heels and lower legs on a stability ball.
- Keep your feet hip-width apart on the ball and your arms flat, face-down on the ground.
- Move your hips upward while keeping your body straight.
- Slowly lift your hips, then move the ball toward you by bending your knees and pulling your heels toward your butt.
- Move the ball until your feet are placed flat on the ball.
- Then move the ball forward again by stretching your knees and lowering your hips.
- Repeat this process 12 to 15 times.
For leg curls, there are a few important tips to note:
- Use no weight or a light weight at first.
- Move slowly. Avoid sharp, sudden movements as these may cause injuries to your hamstrings.
- Only your knees should be moving during hamstring curls.
- Keep your back neutral during curls: if you arch your back, you may find curls difficult to perform. Also, your back may overcompensate for this, causing back discomfort.
- Contract your abs during the exercise. This helps to stabilize your back muscles and spine.
- Stop the exercise if you feel pain in your back or knee.
Tight hamstrings are a common problem among athletes and this makes them prone to serious hamstring injuries, back pain, and other musculoskeletal problems.
The key to preventing and treating tight hamstrings is to keep your hamstrings flexible and strong. Using any of these techniques, you are sure not to overstretch and overload your hamstrings, keeping them strong and flexible the whole time.