Why Can’t I Loosen My Tight Hamstrings?
For many years in my youth I suffered from ‘tight’ hamstrings. I would feel during many matches and training sessions that my hamstrings were about to tear. I would spend ages after every match stretching them, I then learned about foam rolling and would spend ages foam rolling and stretching, sometimes doing 20-30 minute stretch and foam roll sessions in the gym. Nothing worked and many hamstring tears followed.
Eventually I completely tore my hamstring off the bone, which had me out of sport for nearly 2 years. I explained to my physio at the time that I felt like this was just going to keep happening and maybe I needed to give up sport completely. I had tried everything! My physio informed me that in fact I had not tried everything and was just doing the wrong thing.
He advised how I could change it for the better. So, I took his advice and did hours of research on the subject. I have never had a hamstring tear since and I can reach well beyond my toes with a Hamstring stretch. I achieved all this with NO hamstring stretching involved in my rehabilitation.
So, what did I do? What can you do?
The reason your hamstrings feel tight is quite likely because they are in fact overstretched. Because we sit down much more than the human body likes to, we end up with tightness in the front of the thigh and in the lower back. Your hamstrings and backside muscles end up in a lengthened position while you sit. Because of this, the tight muscles cause your pelvis to tilt forward slightly and this causes your hamstrings to naturally stretch. This means they don’t like stretching any more, which gives you the sensation of tightness.
Imagine stretching an elastic band to its’ fullest. Flick the band with your finger and it feels tight, but if you were to try and stretch it further, the band is more likely to snap. However, if the band was thicker and shorter, it would stretch much easier because there is far more scope to stretch and the strength of the band will prevent it from tearing.
So, how do you make your hamstrings thicker and stronger?
That’s easy, you strengthen them. There are so many exercises which help the strength of your hamstrings, find the ones that suit you. Start with ones you find easy to perform, get your technique right and when you get better at them find new ones that challenge you more. The best way to learn hamstring strengthening is to ask a Personal Trainer or Physical Therapist to help you. Just hamstring exercises alone are not exactly best practice either, they need to be incorporated into your current exercise routine. The problem is many people tend to really neglect the hamstrings when it comes to lower body strengthening.
Another issue that may arise is the overuse of the hamstrings which can cause them to become tired and sore. If muscles surrounding the hamstrings which are supposed to work in tandem with them, don’t work as hard as they should, this can cause a “tightness” feeling in the hamstring. If your strengthening programme for the hamstrings doesn’t fix the issue, then it’s time to see the Physical Therapist. We can help figure out what is over-working and what is under-working and help prevent further damage occurring.
This same theory can be put into practice anywhere in the body. I like the phrase “Strengthen before you lengthen”. If you feel a muscle doesn’t stretch as much as you think it should, strengthen it. Adding stretching exercises to the opposite muscle will also help to reach your goal quicker. So, in the case of the hamstrings, the quadriceps on the front of the thigh are the muscles you need to stretch or foam roll. But bear in mind that your issue could very well be coming from another muscle not pulling its’ weight.
If you are not sure, there is no harm in playing it safe. See a Physical Therapist first. We can identify the problem and prescribe the right exercise programme to keep any further issues at bay.