What are the hamstrings?
The hamstrings are located at the back of the thigh and form three muscles connecting your knee and hip joints – areas crucial for running. From one side they are a powerful hip extensor; from the other they stop your knee for hyperextending. Without strong hamstrings your running biomechanics are limited and can affect both hip and knee joints.
What is a hamstring injury?
The most common hamstring issue is tightness. Tight hamstring muscles are common, and they may be more prone to severe strains. In a lot of cases you can feel tightness or a cramp-like sensation in the back of your upper legs. You may instinctively try to massage or rub the area to ease discomfort. If your muscles have tightened up, the blood will have been squeezed out of them and they therefore will be unable to work to their full potential.
The hamstrings span the knee and hip joints, so tightness in these muscles can contribute to other problems, such as knee pain. Hamstring tightness might also pull on the hip and pelvis, causing them to rotate, which will in turn result in hip or back pain. Another common problem can be sacroiliac joint pain, which could in turn could be responsible for postural problems.
What causes hamstring pain?
Here are two scenarios that could cause hamstring tightness:
1. Over Loading
This is quite common and can happen if you skip the correct warm up and start your run at high speed. It can also happen after repetitive overloading during your running sessions and/or training exercises over weeks or months. If you’re skipping warm up and stretching consecutively before and after your sessions, the cumulation of the stress on your hamstrings can be just too high for your body to cope with.
2. Over Lengthening
However, there’s another reason for hamstring pain and it’s quite opposite to the overloading. Imagine your muscles working in pairs, in relation to one another. The quadriceps (muscles located at the front of your thighs) create a special bond with the hamstrings. If during strength sessions, you are focused only on your quadriceps, or your quads are very tight, they might pull the hip flexors, creating the anterior rotation of your hip. This biomechanical issue causes the hamstrings to overstretch and become tight.
How can I prevent a hamstring injury?
Of course, the main thing you can do is to include correct hamstring strengthening exercises in your workout routine. But don’t neglect the dynamic and progressive warm-up before your session plus easy cool down and stretch afterwards. Stretching your hamstrings at the end of your run will help them to relax and go back to their regular length, which prevents an accumulation of shortening. Also, remember to relax the quadriceps and hip flexors as well! Using The Grid daily is a great way to prevent tightness and pain.
Best hamstring exercises for beginners
Firstly, don’t do any exercises if you are in sharp pain. It’s a sign that your body needs time to recover first. But if you are pain-free and want to strengthen your hamstrings or prevent any injury or stiffness recurring, feel free to include some of the exercises below in your workout. You can perform them at home without any equipment, or add some weights, it’s entirely up to you!
- Single leg deadlift (Video, including other amazing single leg exercises!)
- Single leg hamstring chair bridge (Similar to the regular bridge exercise, but place your resting foot on a chair instead of the floor)
- Nordic hamstring curl (the best to do with a training partner!)
If you’re familiar with weight training and want to get inspiration for some more advanced hamstring strengthening exercises, try to do a stiff-legged deadlift – a deadlift performed with a straight leg. Be careful with the amount of weights you use; we suggest a lighter weight than with a regular deadlift. Make sure that your technique is right, so your back is happy as well!
Best hamstring stretches
If you feel your hamstrings are really tight, make sure you are doing your hamstring stretches at least twice a day, to gently ease them out. Take care not to be too aggressive, especially in the morning before the body has had a chance to warm up.
So, how do you stretch out your hamstrings?
- Sit on the ground, and either have both legs out straight in front of you, or one leg bent inwards (as in the photo below). Fold over from the waist, and reach your arms over the straight leg(s). Hold for ten seconds. If you are stretching one leg, switch legs for ten seconds and repeat.
- Lie down and raise your leg straight up. Take a towel or resistance band and put it over the midfoot. Don’t put too much stress on it; you can keep your knee bent. Keep pulling the towel/band gently toward the chest so you can adjust the amount of stretch on your hamstrings. Hold for a minute, then change legs.
- Fold forward, keeping your legs straight or crossed. Completely relax your upper body and just let gravity to the job. Don’t push yourself to touch the ground, it should still be a very gentle movement.
Should you run with tight hamstrings?
Well, we always recommend to not do any high impact exercises if you’re in pain. That’s your time to regenerate, relax, strengthen or stretch but maybe not necessarily give your body more work to do. Listen to your body and adjust level of intensity accordingly.
When can I run again after a hamstring injury?
It depends how serious your injury is. If it’s only a little soreness and tightness you can be back after few days of gentle stretching and strengthening. If it's a severe strain, it can take even up to 8 weeks. If you’re not sure about your situation, contact your doctor or physio for some advice.
How do you get rid of a hamstring cramp?
The best way is to gently, very gently(!) stretch, massage and apply a cold ice pack. That should do the trick.
What is Hamstring Tendonitis?
Tendonitis occurs when the muscles are inflamed. It’s mainly caused by the overuse or overloading of the tissue. Remember to not push through the pain when you feel your hamstrings are getting tight or sore. Instead, focus on stretching and strengthening, and you should prevent it from getting worse.
Treating tight hamstrings
Other great ways to help, apart from stretching, are compression tights and half tights. These are so effective at combating tight hamstrings. They get the blood pumping to the hamstrings and quads, enabling the blood to rush in and encourage the healing process.
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Another great product is a Cold/Hot Pack. Again the ice will encourage the blood flow to the hurt area, which in turn speeds up the healing process.
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Sports massage is another great way to help ease the pain. At the time, you may want to scream at the masseuse as he/she gets into the pain, but believe me, when it's over, you come out floating on air. I find Shiatsu Massage is particularly effective for tight hamstrings, since it works on the pressure points.
Another idea is a recovery cream. Once you get back from your run, rub this in straight after a shower. Let the active ingredients do their job, getting straight into the muscles. Try out Nature's Kiss Recovery Cream, U.P. Ultimate Performance Sport Balm or Biofreeze gel.
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Rocktape is such a good product. It is not only ultra strong and light, but also a lot more comfortable than an average support, as it has just the right amount of elasticity to make it super comfortable.
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Trigger Point Massage
Invest in a massage aid. The Grid is so effective in relieving tight hamstrings. Or if you travel a lot, why not pop The Stick in your suitcase. If you are traveling light, then go for the Trigger Point Massage Ball.
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If you give your tight hamstrings all the attention they need, then the tightness will disappear and you will fly in your training sessions. So, have fun!
This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. If you experience any pain or difficulty with the exercises or advice, stop and consult your healthcare provider.