Tight hamstrings are a common complaint among runners. Not only are they uncomfortable, but can lead to other injuries such as lower back pain or knee pain.
The natural inclination is to stretch a tight muscle, and although this may bring short-term relief it is not the solution. In fact, it may cause more pain further down the line.
Tight hamstrings may be the result of them being too long in the first place. The difference in length between the quadriceps and hamstrings leads to imbalances and pain in the hamstrings. What’s more, a loose muscle is not as strong as it should be. That strength imbalance also causes issues.
There are some simple home remedies to fix your tight hamstrings.
Strengthen your hamstrings
Strong hamstrings, rather than loose flimsy ones, will not only hurt less, but will make you run faster as the posterior chain is what drives you forward.
- Single leg sitting squats
- With one leg, lower yourself onto a seat. When your weight is on the seat, drive up through your load-baring leg back into a standing position. You can hold a weight to make it more challenging. Single leg squats strengthen your whole posterior chain, including your glutes, and benefit your quads too. What’s more, as they are on one leg, they will even out differences in strength between your legs, which also reduces the chance of injury.
- Swiss ball hamstring bridges
- Lie on your back and put your heels onto a Swiss ball. Lift your hips off the ground so your weight is on your heels and your upper back. Hold the position for five seconds and lower your hips, then repeat 10 times. You can make it harder still by straightening and curling your legs. The added strain of keeping the ball still is a bonus and will also improve balance. If it is too hard, try with your heels on a stationary object, like a bench. If it is still too hard, try resting your heels on the ground and lifting your hips from there;
- Split squats
- With a barbell on your shoulders, like you’re are about to complete a squat, move one leg back into a lunge position. Slowly bend your front knee, so your back knee is lowered and almost touches the ground. Then drive up through the front leg. Repeat four sets of eight repetitions. The lunge position works your glutes and hamstrings, but as there is not so much balance required as the other exercises you will be able to focus on strength.
Improve quad mobility
If the issue is your hamstrings are far looser than your quads, work on loosening the latter. But again, a static stretch is not the answer. Mobility and flexibility are not the same thing.
- Foam roll your quads and hip flexors. Put a foam roller under your quads as you face the ground and slowly roll forwards and backwards. Move it up into your flexors to relieve your hips.
- Mobility exercises
- Place a small hurdle in front of you. Lift and open your leg up so it is perpendicular to your body and step over the hurdle, then move forward. Repeat 10 times with each leg. This will increase the range of motion in your hip flexors, which often pull on and tighten your quads.
Running technique and training programmes
Your hamstrings might be tight because you have poor running technique. A common mistake is over striding, which places undue stress on your hamstrings as they pull you forward, rather than push you forward.
Good running coaches will be able to identify your issues by watching videos of you run, and will suggest drills to fix your technique.
They will also be able to give you a training programme that suits your goals. Hamstring tightness is sometimes caused by too much speed training.
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