Everyone complains about tight hamstrings — griping that they are the cause of this or that pain, and the reason you can’t do this or that exercise. But those supposedly “tight” hamstrings might not actually be tight at all — in fact, they may be exactly the opposite.
“Ninety-nine percent of people need to strengthen — not stretch — their hamstrings,” says Karli Taylor, founder and creator of BarreFlow based in Schenectady, New York. “In an ideal world, the pelvis sits in a neutral position and the hamstrings and their opposing muscles, the quadriceps, are both in a relaxed state. In the real world, however, most of us have some degree of anterior pelvic tilt as the result of sitting for prolonged periods of time.” Weak core muscles also can exacerbate anterior pelvic tilt, as well as activities such as distance running, cycling, squatting and other repetitive movements that include hip flexion.
But why do hammies feel tight when they are actually loose? As the pelvis tilts forward, the hamstrings, which are attach at the backside of the pelvis, lengthen. As this pelvic tilt worsens over time, the hamstrings become so stretched and irritated that the associated discomfort actually manifests as a feeling of tightness, says Taylor.
Getting your hamstrings back on track is imperative for pelvic stabilization and proper exercise mechanics. To determine if your pelvis is off kilter, stand in a neutral position with bare feet and place your hands on your hips. “Now imagine that your hands are around the rim of a bucket,” says Taylor. “If your bucket is pouring forward, your pelvis has an anterior tilt.”
Do these exercises twice a week to strengthen your hamstrings and straighten out your bucket.
Lie on your back with your feet hip-width apart, knees bent, with your heels close to your glutes. Push through your heels and lift your hips up while keeping your shoulders, neck and head on the floor. When your hips align with your shoulders and knees, pause briefly then slowly lower back down.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip, spine neutral, chest lifted. Hinge forward from the hips, pushing your glutes rearward and sliding the barbell down your legs until it comes to shin level, back straight. Reverse these steps to return to the start.
Stability Ball Hamstring Curl
Lie faceup with your legs together and your calves on top of an exercise ball, arms at your sides. Lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from feet to shoulders, then bend your knees and roll the ball toward your glutes. When your knees are bent about 90 degrees, roll back to the extended position.
Position your head, neck and shoulders across a flat bench, knees bent. Hold a plate with both hands at your hips and lift your glutes to form a straight line from your head to your knees. This is your start position. Slowly lower your hips about 6 to 12 inches, or until your head, neck and shoulders begin to lift off the bench. Then reverse back to the start.