If you're a mover and a shaker then it's a pretty solid bet you've had difficulty with tight hamstrings at some point in your life.
Hamstrings are composed of three posterior thigh muscles, or the long (often tight) strip of muscle in the back, upper leg. This powerful bundle of muscles originates right below the gluteous maximus and attaches on the tibia, or it starts right below the butt and ends just around the knee.
This group of muscles helps you control the movement of your lower limbs and, as a busy set of muscles, the hamstring often become tight and are then susceptible for tears and other strain. This set of muscles can be overloaded and overworked from frequent stops, starts, and sudden turns which can lead to several different levels of hamstring tears, among other strains and pains.
Most of the time overworked hamstrings aren't the only culprit in a hamstring tear. Weak glute (butt) muscles can pass the bulk of the lower limb's work off on the hamstring, causing the trio of muscles to become fatigued and weak. Alternatively, overdeveloped quadriceps (the four muscles powering the front of your legs) can become too strong, which causes the pelvis to tip forward towards your toes and your hamstrings to lengthen and become weak. Both of these common contributors to hamstring injury can be lessened or even avoided entirely with a little bit of effort.
First of all, be sure to stretch and warm-up prior to exercising, even if you think you're fine to jump straight into your activity of choice. If you're privy to hammy pain then try to focus some of your stretching time on the quadriceps and see if you can find and maintain a neutral pelvis, where the bones sit level and don't dip forward or tilt back.
Also take the time to lift that derriere. It will help take some of the burden off of your tight hamstring trio and can lower the chance of future strain and potential injury. Not sure where to start? Your friendly neighborhood New York City physical therapist can help you out there, but until then give these moves a try:
Extreme Donkey Kicks
Donkey kicks are classic glute exercises, but you need to realize that you can often work the glutes and hamstrings at the same time! Instead of kicking your leg directly out behind you like you would with a classic Donkey Kick, kick your leg up as high as you can. If you feel the pressure in your lower back or spine, you're kicking too high. You should feel the strain in your glutes as well as your hamstrings.
Lie flat on the floor on your back with the hands by your side and your knees bent. Your feet should be placed around shoulder width. This will be your starting position. Pushing mainly with your heels, lift your hips off the floor while keeping your back straight. Breathe out as you perform this part of the motion and hold at the top for a second. Slowly go back to the starting position as you breathe in. You can perform this exercise one leg at a time.
Start in a kneeling position. You can also use a weight to add difficulty and it may be beneficial to put a mat down to pad your knees. Slide under the weight bar (if you choose), racking it across the back of your shoulders. Your shoulder blades should be retracted and the bar tight across your back. Unrack the weight. With your head looking forward, sit back with your butt until you touch your calves. Reverse the motion, returning the torso to an upright position.
Feel free to integrate these exercises into a HIIT routine, doing as many as you can in a minute with one second of rest between each for three rounds.
If you're still feeling pain in your hamstrings then connect with your favorite physical therapist (at Sloane Stecker) and put them to work in getting you into the best shape you can be in. Remember it is just as important to train to prevent injury as it is to recover from it. Waiting until you have a severe hamstring injury isn't necessary, a physical therapist is just as qualified and prepared to help you train to prevent injury. And really, doesn't that sound more preferable?
We'll see you and your tight quads at our Upper West Side or Westchester physical therapy clinics.