You can have one and other – in fact it is probably likely. However, in my experience, when examining a client that has come to me complaining of really tight hamstrings it usually isn’t the hamstrings that are the problem. That might sound a little strange. ‘But Chris, my hamstrings are tight as hell, how can they not be the problem’? The reason is because of other structures that attach to the same part of the body are the hamstrings tendon.
In most people that I see and the majority of my clients, they spend an enormous amount of their day sitting. Either at work or in leisure. This always gives me the first clue as to the real issue at hand. People that spend large amounts of time in sitting will begin to develop muscular inhibitions, excessive muscular facilitations and weaknesses in areas around the pelvis and hips. This combination will usually result in what is called excessive Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT). APT is normal in virtually everyone – roughly 75% of us have a pelvic girdle that is in APT. Please refer to the image below to appreciate what this means and looks like.
When the pelvis is in excessive APT the hamstrings will be pulled back and up, such as in the image on the right. There are other muscles that are impaired in APT, but since the majority of people only tend to notice problems in the hamstrings that is all I will be focussing on here.
So even though the hamstrings might be tight, when I perform an assessment on clients and find excessive APT I immediately know that the hamstrings must be tight – it is unavoidable. The solution to this problem is not to stretch the hamstrings, however. The hamstrings are tight because they have become lengthened, not shortened. So stretching the hamstrings in this instance will only lengthen an already lengthened muscle. Furthermore, the hamstrings have become facilitated in order to prevent further APT, which we don’t want. So in a roundabout way the hamstrings are actually helping us, not harming us, in this situation.
The answer is to start training them and lengthening the other muscles that have become shortened and caused the APT to begin with. The muscles at the front of the hip, the hip flexors and psoas in particular, are the main culprits and must be targeted with a sound mobilisation regime. Since the hip flexors are very deep tissues they are nearly impossible to mobilise with a foam roller or any other self-myofascial release (SMFR) device. A few sessions with an experienced Manual Therapist is usually going to be very helpful here. We can then start to perform a dedicated amount of time to stretching the hip flexors both statically and dynamically, usually every day for at least 10 minutes.
We then start performing a host of exercises that target not only the hamstrings, but the glutes and abdominals as well. These are muscles that are also affected by APT as they become weak and disinhibited due to their chronic lengthened position. Exercises such as single leg bridges, single leg deadlifts, pull throughs, plank variations, anti-rotational core exercises and plank variations will help to facilitate the glutes, core and hamstrings and hopefully start to allow the pelvic girdle into a neutral position and alleviate some of that hamstring tightness.
As always, for more information please contact me through the contact page. Train smart and train well.
Yours in health.