Tight hamstrings Q&A: how can I stretch them out?
Run coach Paul Larkins advises a reader who has been left with tight hamstrings after a knee operation and a period of inactivity
Rather than passive stretching, you need to think about ‘active mobilisation’; although knowing what triathletes are like, I should add the word ‘caution’ to all of this! Rest assured though, you will get everything back in order again, but it’ll take a little bit of time – it won’t get better in a week, realistically we’re talking around a month.
Ideally for the best results you’d need access to some low hurdles (they’ll have them at your running club if you’re part of one), but you can do all the exercises with imaginary barriers. Basically, you need to loosen up your hips and back to help your hamstrings regain their flexibility.
The first exercise involves 10 movements with each leg. With the hurdle (or your imaginary one), walk forward driving up onto your toes and hook one leg around the side of the hurdle. You’re walking alongside the low hurdle, mobilising your hips.
We can then move onto walking over the hurdle, stepping over each one alternating the lead leg. Keep your back and hips upright and leg straight ahead. Again, it’s a hooking motion to mobilise those hips and can be done by simply walking forward. Conquer this and progress to a sideways movement to further increase mobilisation. As a bonus, you’re also working on your core strength at the same time.
The American coach Bobby Lockhart, who has several international-standard middle-distance runners on his books, uses this simple workout once a week to maintain strength and reduce the possibility of any injury recurring:
“Think of it as a chain”, he told me, “everything links together, so rather than just stretching your hamstrings, try to build up their strength. And don’t just look at the area that was injured, try to think about why that occurred and deal with any other weak areas.”
As distance athletes, sitting down can shorten your hips flexors and change the length of your hamstrings, which in turn can weaken that muscle. Fortunately for us endurance types, however, there’s a hugely simple way of working to improve this every time we stand up. Simply get up from your work chair without using your hands. Give it a try; it’s fascinating to discover what muscles are being used to do such a simple activity!
Of course you can add more typical static stretches to all of this, like lifting your leg onto the third stair at home, (this being an example, as it will depend on the size of your stairs!) and holding it for 20-30secs.
It’s also worthwhile reminding yourself that every day is different, muscles adapt from week-to-week rather than instantaneously and everything takes time.