Can you bend down and touch your toes with ease? Or do you feel a tightness in your back/thighs/calves that stops you getting your fingers onto the floor?
Tight hamstrings (a group of three muscles than run from the pelvis to just below the knee) are a very common problem often caused by
- sitting at a desk all day
- an old injury
- tightness in other areas of the body
- a natural disposition towards tightness
Not being able to touch your toes isn’t necessarily a problem. Many people with ‘tight’ hamstrings go about their lives pain free. However, if you do suffer with back or hip pain or pelvic floor dysfunction, your tight hamstrings may be a contributory factor.
It’s important to point out here that tight hamstrings might only be a small part of the problem. For example,
- your calves (gastrocnemius muscles) cross the knee joint so tightness there can have an impact.
- joint restrictions or tightness in your lower back and pelvis can cause increased tension through your hips and legs.
- tightness in your deep hip muscles and affect how your pelvis moves thus affecting how you bend forward at the hips
Or it could be a combination of all the above which is very common with flexibility issues.
Tips to improve your hamstring flexibility
Never ever force a stretch
I remind my class members of this all the time because I know the temptation is to ‘push harder’. Your body will always chose protection over performance and stretching too forcefully will activate the ‘stretch reflex’ which increases muscle tension and resists the stretch. Don’t fight your body on this one! Ease gently into a stretch and focus on a steady even breath.
It’s OK to bend your knees
Especially if you’re performing your stretches sitting on the floor. It’s not a good idea to bend forward with straight legs if tightness in your lower back/hamstrings is pulling your pelvis back. Instead bend your knees, lengthen through your spine and hinge at the hips keeping a flat back and your chest up.
Mobilise other tight areas first
Your tight hamstrings may be the result of tightness in the hips, spine, calves or all three! Peform some mobility stretches on these areas first and see if that helps release the hamstrings.
You don’t need to hold stretches for too long
Especially when you’re just starting out with flexibility work. Start with more repetitions but shorter holds and then hold the last repetition for up to 30 seconds.
Use it or lose it!
It can be frustrating when you feel you’ve made some flexibility gains only to find they quickly disappear. In order to maintain your new range of movement you need to use it so add exercises to your day (a few sun salutations or deep squats) to help you maintain your flexibility.
The following video shows you how to perform a simple seated hamstring stretch. I like this seated version because it’s easier to keep your back straight and your chest lifted.