Tight Hamstrings In Runners
As athletes, our legs count amongst our most valuable assets: whether you run or cycle, whether you take to the trails or charge down the road, anything that might impede on performance is something to be avoided. Yet, through overuse or even lack of proper stretching, something as small as a tight hamstring can become something much harder to control. Below we will go through some of the ways that can help you relieve the tightness, and what you can do moving forward to prevent it from happening again, while simultaneously becoming stronger and better athletes.
The most common reasons for weaker and tighter hamstrings include underactive glutes, inadequate stretching and the over-use of certain muscle groups. The hamstring groups together three different muscles along the posterior of your thigh: your quadriceps make up the anterior. Both work together to keep your pelvis aligned with your spine: greater posture and balance means better movement. However, the quadriceps, being the stronger of the two groups, often pulls the pelvis forward: this is called anterior pelvic tilt (APT). This means that greater strain is often placed on the hamstrings as your pelvis will no longer be in a neutral state. The following stretches and exercises will ensure that the hamstrings are better able to withstand the stronger pull of the quadriceps, thus maintaining the requisite, neutral balance.
You need not cease running while relieving yourself of tightness, but we would recommend taking a step back from sessions and harder runs until your hamstrings feel loose and ready to take your more demanding runs. If you begin to feel pain in your hamstrings due to tightness, however, try to hold back from your running and focus instead on strengthening and stretching your muscles.
Stretching is the easiest way to relieve your hamstrings of tightness. While stretching is something that should be routinely done before and/or after your runs, there are a number of stretches that focus on your hamstrings. These include the following:
- Standing Hamstring Stretch: Standing straight, stretch one foot out on the ground with the toes pointed upwards. Keeping that outstretched leg straight, and the other bent slightly at the knee, reach for your toes. Hold for 15-30 seconds, before repeating on the other leg.
- Easy Standing Hamstring Stretch: A similar exercise to the above involves stretching your leg onto a surface at a similar height to your waist. Keeping both legs straight, reach forward to that held-up leg. Hold for 15-30 seconds, before repeating on the other leg.
- Seated Hamstring Stretch: Sit on the floor with your one leg straight out and the other held inwards, as in the picture above: reach your hands out towards your outstretched leg and bend forward at the waist. Hold this for 10-15 seconds, before repeating on the other leg.
- Lying Hamstring Stretch: Sit on the floor with both legs outstretched and your back straight. Holding something like a towel, hold it at both ends and loop it around the end of one of your feet. Keeping your leg and back straight, pull the leg up until you feel the stretch. Hold for 10-15 seconds, before repeating on the other leg.
Using a foam roller is also a very useful tool for the entire leg, and should not be neglected. Whether you are running your first 5k or training for a marathon, the foam roller will help to relieve tightness in your muscles, increase your joint range of motion, and will help resolve additional soreness and inflammation.
There are a number of small changes you can make to your usual running routine that, although easy to implement, will make a huge difference to your training: this includes a short warm-up and a regular stretching routine. Stretching before your warm-up, unless for an easy or recovery run, will only serve to pull against colder, harder muscles. By warming them up beforehand, you can safeguard against any pre-emptive tightness that your run would otherwise exacerbate.
There are also a number of ways to ensure that your hamstrings do not get tight again, while at the same time keeping your legs strong and balanced. These include the stretches and foam rolling detailed above, but there are also a number of exercises that will focus on the glutes and muscles that make up the hamstrings to ensure they are not pulled forward with your quadriceps.
- Deadlift (requires: 2x dumbbell): Holding a pair of dumbbells, spread your feet hip-width apart and bend slightly at the knees. Lower the dumbbells as low as you can without bending the knees any further while pushing your glutes out back. When bringing the dumbbells back up, push your hips forward again. Do three sets of ten.
- Good Morning (requires: 1x dumbbell): Spread your feet hip-width apart and bend your knees slightly again. Hold a single dumbbell in front of you resting on your elbows (not in hand). Push your chest slightly forward and your shoulder blades back. Bend forward at the waist, breathing in slowly as you do so. Hold for a moment, then slowly exhale as you return to your original position. Do three sets of ten.
- Standard Bridge (requires: nothing): Lying on your back, keep your knees up with your feet flat on the ground and your arms by your sides. Slowly raise your hips up towards the ceiling. Squeeze your glutes and keep your core tight as your hips go as high as they can, before lowering them slowly back down. Try hold your hips just above the ground, before repeating. Do three sets of twelve.
- Standard Bridge Advanced (requires: nothing): This is the same exercise as before, except this time, as you raise your hips up, hold them at their highest point for 30-60 seconds.
- Hamstring Curl (requires: fitness ball): Lying on your back again, place your feet on the fitness ball. Raise your hips up and hold: try not to move your hips from this position for the entire set. Inhaling, slowly bend the knees so that the ball rolls towards you. Then exhale as you stretch your legs out again. Do three sets of ten.
Each of these exercises can be done at home: try to fit them in two or three times a week. The best part is, these can all be done after your runs as well, as your muscles will be far more flexible and warmed up. This means you can leave your recovery days to just resting.
At The Run Hub, we want to provide you with a one stop shop for all your running needs. As passionate runners, we know how frustrating injuries can be. We’re on hand to offer any advice we possibly can so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.