They’re stubborn little buggers, aren’t they!?
The hamstring muscles are the major muscle group in the legs. They allow us to sit, stand, walk, run, kick, squat, and bend over to touch our toes. (Thanks, hammies!)
However when the hamstrings are tight, we experience that familiar creakiness. It takes extra effort to stand up from a chair and our toes feel very, very far away.
So many people experience the discomfort of tight hamstrings. In fact, I’d venture that people who describe themselves as “inflexible” or “stiff as a board” or “old and creaky” are really referring to how they feel in their hamstrings.
Culturally, we are extremely prone to tight hamstrings. Sitting in any position for long periods of time shortens (contracts) the hamstring muscles. The longer you sit, the harder it is for those muscles to regain their length and stretch. So… sitting at a desk for 8 hours, long drives, and commuting are often the leading causes for chronically contracted hamstrings.
Some Other Common Causes of Tight Hamstrings
- you were just born this way
- you’re a man (generally speaking, men tend to have tighter leg muscles than women)
- you spend a lot of time sitting in a chair/car/train/airplane/all of the above
- your favorite form of exercise involves cycling
- you skip stretching after a workout (tsk tsk!)
Another Important Connection
I often refer to the hamstrings and the lower back as “BFFs” because tightness in one of these areas often restricts mobility in the other.
For example: attempting a forward bend with super-tight hamstrings will often cause the lower back to round, which puts a dangerous amount of stress on the lower vertebrae. Stretching and releasing tension in the hamstring muscles, however, will help to keep the lower back free as well.
The #1 All-Time Best-Ever Hamstring Stretch Sequence
(cue trumpets and ribbons)
This yoga sequence is my go-to routine for healing all hamstrings, from the semi-stiff to the chronically tight. I love it because:
1) anyone, even those with the tightest of hamstrings, can do it,
2) the spine stays in neutral the whole time, so there’s no risk of straining the lower back, and
3) it’s gentle on the rest of the body.
P.S. This sequence makes a great post-workout stretching routine!
1. Bridge Pose (prep)
Bridge Pose fires up the hamstrings and prepares them for the stretch. It also releases the quadriceps (front thighs), and hip flexors — two areas that can also be stiff from sitting.
2. Full Hamstring Stretch
Use a strap (or string, tie, or towel) around the ball of the foot and extend it up to the ceiling. Keep your neck, spine, and hips in neutral. Find a healthy stretch along the whole back of your leg. The stretch deepens as you (a) flex your foot and (b) use the weight of your arms to gently pull the strap toward your shoulders.
Repeat this sequence with the other leg. For added benefit, repeat the whole sequence two or three times.
What exactly is a “healthy stretch”?
In this sequence (or any “stretch”), you want to feel a stretch centralized in the middle of the muscle. The stretch should feel comfortable and sustainable, which is to say… it should feel like you can stay in the position and breathe fully, and should not feel like anything is going to snap, break, or catch on fire. If you feel a stretch primarily at the end of a muscle (aka the attachment point, where the muscle attaches to bone), you’ve entered “unhealthy” territory.
The hamstring muscles are notoriously stubborn and slow-to-change. But they are changeable! Practice this easy routine a few times each week and you will notice more ease in your everyday movements. And those toes? Well…they won’t be far for long.
Love and hammies,