As both a Rider Biomechanics coach and a Pilates Instructor I hear a lot of people complain about having tight hamstrings. But what causes tight hamstrings?
Quite simply, most of us spend far too long sitting down and not enough time up and about stretching and lengthening our hamstrings. You’re particularly prone to tight hamstrings if you’ve got a desk job. In this scenario, the vast majority of your time is spent sitting at your chair hunched over a computer. In a normal sitting position your hamstrings are in a contracted position and the more time you spend like this the more your muscle has the chance to shorten which leads to tightness. This means that cyclists and horse riders are particularly prone to tight hamstrings as their sports also involve sitting.
Tight hamstrings can be prone to spraining, straining or even seriously tearing when placed under stress. A tight hamstring can also pull your pelvis out of alignment which can lead to all sorts of postural problems. Similarly, tight hamstrings can also cause knee, calf or Achilles injuries.
Walking regularly, staying mobile and stretching can help prevent your hamstrings from contracting or getting tight. But sometimes it is not the hamstrings that are causing the problem, which is why simply stretching the hamstrings doesn’t work for some people!
And just because your hamstrings feel tight, it doesn’t mean that they are. The tightness you are feeling could be caused by weak gluteal (bottom) muscles, anterior pelvic tilt, or tight hip flexors.
Obviously the first thing to do is check to see if your hamstrings are really tight or just feel that way.
Sit on the floor with one knee bent up, foot on the floor, and the other leg straight out in front of you. Hold onto the knee that is bent and reach down toward the foot of your straight leg. If you can’t touch your toes while keeping your knee straight, then you have tight hamstrings.
If you cannot touch your toes, you could always do a double-check and try this test. Lie on your back and try to raise one leg straight up to the ceiling. If you can get your leg beyond an 80-degree angle, then your hamstrings are not tight and you’ll need to work on your hips or butt.
However assuming it is your hamstrings there are a great number of exercises and stretches that you can do to help loosen them, and doing a regular Pilates class is an ideal way to not only lengthen your hamstrings but to work on gluteal muscles and hip flexors at the same time. It’s always a good idea to warm up your muscles before stretching. Try taking a walk or doing some other activity so your muscles are warm before starting any exercise programme.
Never stretch while you’re in pain or try to force a stretch. Don’t hold your breath while doing stretching exercises, if possible breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to incorporate hamstring stretches into your routine at least a couple of times a week.
I have shown a couple of stretches below but if you would like further exercises that can help you, you might like to consider joining a live Pilates class or taking out a Premium Plus subscription which will give you unlimited access to any number of Pilates videos .
Sit on the ground in a butterfly (long frog) position.
Extend your right leg with your knee slightly bent.
Then bend forward at your waist over your right leg.
You may hold your lower leg for support, but don’t force the stretch.
Hold for 10 seconds and work up to 30 seconds.
Repeat with your other leg. Repeat this stretch with each leg two to three times total.
Start on the floor on your hands and knees. Curl your toes under and straighten your legs, sending your tailbone towards the ceiling. Tight hamstrings may make this pose difficult, so you can keep your knees bent slightly if necessary. Just make sure to keep a straight spine.
Take a few deep breaths or hold for a count of 20 before return to your hands and knees.