How many times have you heard (or said) “No matter how much I stretch them, my hamstrings are always so tight”? In most cases, our hamstrings feel tight because they are over-lengthened rather than shortened by contraction, which is why no amount of stretching will provide relief.
How do we help our students and clients with over-lengthened hamstrings? First, we need to be able to explain to them WHY stretching isn’t helping.
This whole dilemma starts with the pelvis. In an ideal world, the pelvis sits in a neutral position and the hamstrings and their opposing muscles, the quadriceps, are both in a relaxed state. In the real world, however; most of us have some degree of an anterior pelvic tilt as a result of sitting for prolonged periods of time. Even if we try not to sit too much at this point in our lives, think about how many hours we have spent sitting at a desk. At least 12 years of school right? Homework? Maybe an office job at one point? It all adds up to extra tight hip flexors and a pesky pelvic tilt.
As the pelvis tilts forward, the hamstrings, which attach at the backside if the pelvis, are lengthened. Over time, if the postural issue isn’t addressed, the pelvic tilt will continue to get more severe until the hamstrings are stretched so far that they start to actually feel “tight”.
Think about stretching a rubber band to the point where it turns white – that point where any stress on the elastic may cause it to snap. Will stretching that rubber band farther make it stronger? NO!
So if stretching the hamstrings isn’t the answer, what do we do to relieve the pain and prevent injury? The hamstrings need to be strengthened in order to help return the pelvis to a neutral position.
Think about this common postural problem as you design your programming. Take the time to really stretch the front chain of the body. Stretch those quadriceps and hip flexors whenever possible and add some extra hamstring and glute work and watch the complaints of “tight” hamstrings fade into the sunset!