Those of us who know the feeling of “stiffness” knows first-hand that insufficient flexibility in important areas can impede performance and function. One of the most common areas where I see a lack of flexibility rears its ugly head is in the hamstrings. Tight hamstrings are a common issue with athletes and non-athletes alike.
Hamstrings are both a hip extensor and a lower leg flexor–they help extend the thigh, open the hip, and bend the knee. Hamstrings are also two-joint muscles–they cross both the knee and hip. This means tight hamstrings will impact the knees, the hips, and the lower back. Many cases of knee, hip, or back pain have tight hamstrings as a contributing factor.
If an athlete’s hamstrings are too tight to allow them to function properly, it will cause the quads on the other side of our femurs to have to work harder than necessary. It will also limit the potential force production of the hamstrings, meaning our deadlifts, squats, and rowing (among other things) won’t be as good as they could be.
Most importantly, short hamstrings can cause our lumbar curve to round earlier than we’d like, exposing us to potential injury.
So how to tell if you have tight hamstrings? Lie down on your back with both legs straight and your spine in a neutral position. Raise one thigh so it’s exactly perpendicular to the ground and bend your knee so your shin is parallel to the ground. Keep the other leg straight and don’t let your pelvis move at all. Now grab behind the knee that is raised. From this position try to extend the power part of your leg–get it as straight as possible without shifting your hips or compensating in any way. If you can get it to about 80 degrees, you’d get about a “C” in hamstring flexibility.
Now that we’ve established that most of us could stand to improve our hamstring flexibility, I want to share a video that will show you how to do a couple of hamstring stretches using a method I have always found to be very effective: PNF stretching. Make sure you warm up a little before trying these stretches–never try PNF stretches on cold muscles.
Give these stretches a try, and remember, to quote Kelly Starrett: “muscles are like obedient dogs. They need constant, repetitive training. One session of stretching lasting one minute isn’t going to change anything. Stretching big muscles like hamstrings and quads takes time.”
About the Author
Edward Getterman is a Certified CrossFit Trainer (CF-L3) and the owner of Twin Bridges CrossFit in Waco, Texas. If he can’t be at the gym or at home, he’d prefer to be at Walt Disney World. He loves deadlifts, hates running, and believes above all else that CrossFit is for everyone.