Ask the Expert—Erin Holt
Q: “I am a runner who always has tight hamstrings. How do I loosen them up?”:
Hamstring tightness seems to be more common than not—especially in the world of runners—and I see people doing all sorts of stretches to loosen them up. It seems a strange phenomenon, but the sensation of “tight” hamstrings usually has nothing to do with the length of your hamstrings.
Tightness in your spine can often cause the restrictive feeling in the hamstrings, which may prevent you from touching your toes. The key is to loosen up your spine and your hamstrings will follow. After doing a proper warm-up of foam rolling and light dynamic stretches, perform the simple stretches explained below and you will feel like a younger version of yourself before you know it! Try touching your toes before and after to see the difference.
Sit on the floor with your legs together and straight.
Cross your hands across your chest
Bend at your waist as far forward as you can and then rotate your torso as far as you can to your right and your left. Determine which side is looser.
You want to treat the LOOSER side: 4-6 sets x 20 seconds
Keep your arms crossed on your chest
Bend forward and rotate towards the looser side. Allow your leg(s) to bend, or whatever feels natural, so you can get as much rotation as possible. YOU DO NOT WANT TO FEEL STRETCHING IN YOUR HAMSTRINGS.
Make sure you stay relaxed, keep breathing, slowly rotate and hold the position, and do not bounce.
Next, stand up and try to touch your toes without bending your knees.
Consistently doing these stretches to loosen up your spine will help you and your hamstrings to feel much better and keep you running, lifting, biking, and moving well.
A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and TPI fitness professional, Erin Desharnais also holds a B.S. in Exercise Science from the University of New Hampshire.