Show of hands if you get tight hamstrings? Realistically everyone should have their hands up for this one. The hamstrings are the muscle group most prone to tightness and thus need to be stretched the most often. Along with learning how to stretch your hamstrings we will also cover when to stretch and why you should stretch these muscles.
About the Hamstrings
Based on their position at the back of the thigh, the hamstrings are often in a semi-contracted state when you sit. Depending on how you sleep they might also find themselves contracted during the night. Typically you end up flexing and tensing your hamstrings when you are in both of these positions to aid in movement or in times of stress. In addition, with the calves and lower back on either side pulling at them all day long it is easy to see why they become so tight all of the time.
While the biceps are a similar muscle group responsible for the same type of motion, they never suffer the same level of continual tightness. Much of this has to do with the lack of other muscle groups directly pulling on them whereas the hamstrings are being tugged constantly all day and all night.
When to Stretch
Because the hamstrings are constantly being pulled and end up contracting so much you should be stretching a lot each day. A morning, post-workout, and evening stretch are recommended to help keep you as loose and limber as possible. You might be surprised at how much better you day goes when you stretch your hamstrings this often as it can alleviate pressure in your back and hips.
Sometimes tightness in the back, neck, hamstrings, and calves can be linked back to just one of those muscles being tight and pulling on the others. The result is a chain effect where each link absorbs tension generated by one link pulling hard on both of its ends. By relieving that tension the entire chain can relax and loosen up.
How to Stretch
A cold muscle is generally about 10% shorted than it normally should be so stretching right when you wake up can be a little tricky. The best bet is to perform some light dynamic movements followed by static movements. Depending what you are doing before you go to bed, this routine should be used then as well.
- Alternating Toe Touches – 30 per foot – Start in a standing position. Kick your left leg forward and up to about waist height while reaching out with your right hand to touch the top of your toe. As your left leg goes back down let it travel about a foot behind you from its momentum before coming back to rest on the ground. Repeat with the other foot, alternating each leg for all of the reps. As you kick forward try and slowly increase the height of the kick until you get to chest level by the end of the reps.
- Single Leg Forward Bends – 20 per leg – Stand with feet together. Bend at the waist and lean forward letting your left leg travel out behind your while your hands drop down towards the floor. You should try and keep your back flat along with the left leg while your hands try and touch the ground. Go as far as is comfortable and then reverse the motion back to standing before switching legs and repeating. With each rep try and stretch down a little further.
- Runner’s Stretch – Stand with feet close together and hands on hips. Place one foot up on an 8-inch step about one to two feet in front of you. Keep your knee slightly bent and toe pointed forward. Look straight ahead and lean forward at the waist while keeping the back flat. You should feel a nice stretch in the middle of the lead leg. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and then switch legs. Repeat with both legs a second time.
- Over-Step Stretch – Stand with one foot cross over the other. Keeping your legs straight and back flat bend forward at the waist and try and touch the ground with your hands. Exhale slowly to sink deeper in to the stretch. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and then switch your foot position with the opposite foot in the lead. Repeat with both legs a second time.