“I stretch all the time, but never seem to be able to get my hamstrings stretched out.”
“My hamstrings are always so tight.”
“I’ve had to routinely stretch my hammies for years.”
Raise your hand if you have said some form of that… How many of you actually raised your hand? 😉
We’ve all either said or heard someone say some form of these statements, myself included.
But why do we all keep doing this? Why do we think that is the only thing we should do for the good ol’ hammies? Solely stretching the hamstrings regardless of how many years we’ve done it, will not do the trick.
This is for a few reasons. First, we should differentiate “tight” muscles. There are ‘short and tight muscles and ‘long and tight’ muscles. Short and tight are muscles that need to be stretched out. They are too short. This could be because they have been trained in a short range of motion, they’ve been injured, the opposing muscle is too weak to balance it out, etc, etc.
Long and tight, which the hamstrings tend to be, are hanging on for dear life. Think of a rubber band stretched out as far as it will go. Stretching it further only puts more strain on it.
Second, solely stretching a muscle is problematic because it doesn’t incentivize the body to keep that muscle in a longer state. Long muscles or allowing a muscle to work through a wide range of motion is expensive for the body in terms of energy resources. If you don’t regularly use a muscle in a wide range of motion actively, the body doesn’t see the need to have that much range. As with just about everything in the body, use it or lose it.
So this is what I’ve left out thus far. Yes, only stretching won’t do the trick long term. But stretching and strengthening will. Or simply strengthening through a full range of motion. We so commonly forget about strengthening the hamstrings, but they are practically screaming for it. Giving you the sense of constantly feeling tight is their form of begging for strengthening.
There are so many ways to strengthen the hamstrings. Of course, there are hamstring curls, but that’s so basic. Let’s get more creative and fun: deadlifts, straight-legged deadlifts, weighted Good Mornings, hamstring curls on an exercise ball, Nordic Curls, wind sprints (yes sprinting is a great hammy exercise), and many more.
The trick here is to ease into it. I know many of you will be super motivated to immediately start grinding on your hammies after this mind-blowing article but pump the brakes. Remember they haven’t been trained that much recently. Going full-throttle right out of the gate will cause more damage than good to that poor weak muscle. Take a month of slowly and steadily progressively loading the hamstrings. I learned this the hard way and spent two days not being able to fully straighten my legs as I walked to class.
If you’re struggling with hamstring pain or tightness, be sure to jump on the schedule and we’ll get you taken care of!