Dear Willow: Help My Tight Hamstrings!
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I have always been plagued by extremely tight hamstrings. For instance, when lying on my back I can barely bring my leg perpendicular with the floor under my own power. When someone does it for me, I do not get much deeper. What can I do to improve this? Also, after a long day of playing basketball (usually in the neighborhood of eight pick-up games) I will get intense hamstring cramps, even after stretching. Can you help me?
Hamstrings are a workable challenge for many people, especially men. These three long and thin muscles share much of the torque and load bearing movements created from the ground up and the torso down. They are of an interesting anatomical design.
I would begin by assessing how many hours per a day you sit. Sitting can be a leading cause for tight hamstrings. Calculate the number of hours your knees are bent and you may be surprised to think that they are doing a lot more work than previously thought.
As an example, let us say that you are employed at an office job where you sit at a desk for eight hours a day. That is eight hours of having your knees bent and hamstrings in the shortened (flexed) position. Now, add on the time you sit in a car commuting to and from work. Add time sitting on the couch or chairs at home with your knees bent. Total all these time frames up and you may find you have been using your hamstrings for over twelve hours of your day. If you only spend twenty minutes three times per week stretching out your hamstrings, it’s no wonder they snap back into their highly trained, shortened position. You have spent the vast majority of your day training them to retain one main position - seated.
Shift your present paradigm to address the need of keeping your legs strong in a lengthened position. There is no hard or fast rule that says you must sit or have your hips flexed or knees bent this much throughout your time spent awake. Change up your movement patterns and create new postural habits. Put more attention to increasing the frequency and duration of lengthening your hamstrings.
Some ideas may include:
- Stand and walk in the office every ten to fifteen minutes.
- Change to an upright or standing workstation.
- Stand to eat during lunch or breaks.
- Walk before and after work.
- Stretch your hamstrings while watching TV.
There are so many ways for you to be creative with your time and my guess is that you are a creative man. Use your mental resourcefulness to accommodate your physical needs.
Here are a couple simple stretches you can do with ease:
- Legs straight up wall with back on the floor - Maintain this position for 15 minutes and you may notice your pelvis, hips and sacrum realigning and adjusting, too. When the hamstrings lengthen, it reduces the strain on your lower back as well.
- Straddle while sitting with back up wall - Maintain this position for 5-10 minutes to stretch your adductors and medial hamstrings. The closer to your groin and pubic bone you receive a stretch, the more relief you may feel on your IT Band.
Make conscious decisions to shift your body around and not settle in to one position for too long. We are designed to move. We are engineered to be active and fluid with our musculature. Keep the blood flowing and your hamstrings will come around in time.