Tight Hamstring Problems

You struggle to reach your feet. You can't squat very low, sit very long, or lift very well without straining your back. You've had repeated muscles strains in your legs and lower back.

You, my friend, have #tighthammyproblems.

Hey, it's okay. Apparently even smooth hip celebrities who call themselves names like "Flo Rida" fall victim to tight hamstrings.

I'm a damn shame
order more champagne
pullin them hamstring,
try'na put it on ya.
                                      -Flo Rida                          

And now you, Mr. Rida, no longer have to suffer!

If a few simple stretches were an effective solution, a lot less people would be in the Hamstring Problems Club. Really, it doesn't take a genius to straighten a knee and lean forward to stretch the hamstrings. So before you give me a Mr. Obvious Eyeball Roll, know how to max out your hamstring solutions.

1. How are you stretching?

The hamstrings, like all other muscles in the body, act across three planes of motion. In fact, they are an important stabilizer against rotational forces at the knee. Traditional forward bending and leg raise stretching hits the hamstrings in only one of the three planes. You may greatly benefit from learning how to stretch them in the other two planes. Google "tri-planar hamstring stretches."

You may also need to learn how to really lock down the pelvis when you're stretching. When those with tight hamstrings try to stretch by fully straightening their knee, the pelvis often rocks into anterior or posterior tilt, which provides an ineffective stretch and even perpetuates the greater problem happening in the entire kinetic chain. Stretching with the knee slightly bent and working on the feel of a "hip hinge" while keeping the pelvis and lumbar spine neutral is often greatly beneficial for all issues at hand.

2. What else is tight?

You may need to give attention to other inflexible segments (especially hip and lower back tightness and foot/ankle over pronation or supination). Tightness in the hip adductors also commonly causes the hamstring to work over time and therefore chronically tighten or strain.

Almost everyone sits for too long too often, which causes the lower back, knees, and hips to conform to the chair posture. Hamstrings often take the brunt of this when you go to run and jump and lift. Recovering mobility of the lumbar spine and hip flexors is often a great way to decrease the functional demands on those hammies.

When tight hamstrings are due to nerve root irritation stemming from a lumbar spine disc herniation, you may need to consider getting some professional help. Specific lower back care and nerve glides may be in order. They look different than typical hamstring stretches.

3. Does anyone else think it's hilarious that we go around calling a part of the human body "ham-" anything?

4. Have you addressed weakness?

Just like the above noted interlinked flexibility issues, weakness of the lateral hip muscles, thigh muscles, lower back, and abdominal muscles are potential contributing factors. The hamstrings will strain and be tight and strain and be tight until you work on bringing those other trunk and hip muscle groups up to par.

For those with chronic hamstring issues and increased lumbar lordosis (arch), weak abdominals are often the culprit because the hamstrings work hard to add stability to the pelvis. Those with hamstring issues and decreased lumbar lordosis (flat back) often have very weak butt muscles and lower back muscles.

Gradual, progressive strengthening of the hamstrings themselves is the primary means by which they  become resilient. The key is to closely monitor the load and range of motion. For example, bridging exercises and squats and backward lunges load the hamstrings in a much more limited range of motion compared to, say, dead lifts or a seated or lying knee flexion machine. You may want to begin with those more gentle exercises for a time, then move into higher load exercises within a limited range of motion, then move into the higher load activities at full range of motion, then gradually return to the running or jumping activities that strained the hammy in the first place.
Goblet Squats = Golden

For those who can't squat (or lift in general) without rounding their back due to tight hamstrings and/or core weakness, Goblet squats are pure magic! They "automatically" force the trunk muscles to activate and maintain a neutral spine.

Again,  if the hammies are reflexively compensating for poor trunk strength or stability, then all the greatest stretches and lotions and joint manipulations in the world will not help. Strengthen the core!

5. Lay off it already? 

Lastly, have you seriously considered laying the heck off the hammies? This relates to point number one (the Mr. Obvious bend forward and stretch move). Yes, neurotic exercise people often overstretch their hamstrings just because they lend themselves so well to stretching. Aggressive stretching will not "work out" a muscle once it has been strained. Aggressive stretching will not fix muscle imbalance or make the muscle more resilient.

I've had clients with chronic hamstring strains that keep tugging and tugging without giving it a chance to heal. Once you give the darn thing a chance to rest and apply very light loading (without aggressive stretching and higher velocity movement like running), it finally starts to heal, and you can progress through moderate and higher level activities as mentioned above.

So in conclusion, champagne is not a good long-term solution for Hamstring Problems. I don't suggest try'na put it on anything or anyone, or whatever that means. But I do hope you can now move beyond the old Mr. Obvious hamstring stretch if that's not working for ya.

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1. Stretch the hamstrings, lower back, hip flexors, and adductors appropriately for your build and body type across three planes of motion. Watch out for foot/ankle issues causing rotational torque at the knee and hip. Learn to hip hinge while keeping the lower back and pelvis neutral.

2. Strengthen your weak areas and ingrain movement patterns that keep your lumbar spine and pelvis neutral. 

3. Lay off it already. Active/smart relative rest is far more beneficial than the typical advice to take some medication, take two weeks off, and go back to the same old movement patterns and activities that got you into trouble in the first place.

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