Are Your Hamstrings Actually Tight?

Nothing is more guaranteed in life than death, taxes, and people proclaiming that their hamstrings are tight.

It’s fun to watch people’s reaction when I tell them that they don’t have have tight hamstrings. Truly tight hamstrings are about as rare as a unicorn. There are people out there who do in fact have anatomically shortened hamstrings, but they are so very few and far between.

So, why then are individuals experiencing this feeling?

1. Protective Tension

This is probably the most likely reason for the general population. People are in such a far state of anterior pelvic tilt in their pelvis that it results in their hamstrings to always be turned on to try and help to get people out of excessive low back extension and to prevent pain.

Stretching those people isn’t going to help. In fact, it will more than likely make them more unstable. If you sit in this posture and are stretching your hamstrings regularly you are most likely stretching more of the ligamentous structures holding the hip joint together than actually stretching the hamstrings. That feeling you get immediately after stretching where you are able to pull your leg back further is not from your hamstrings loosening up.

Your stretch receptors in the muscles desensitize so you are able to stretch farther than you were than that prior rep. It generally lasts for a short time then the feelings of tightness return. Stretching isn’t a bad thing, but we need the body to be in better position so we are not stretching  out those ligamentous structures to prevent a hip from becoming sloppy and unstably.

When people are in this position, my go to exercise is the 90/90 hip lift. I want to use the hamstrings to help pull the pelvis back so it will help the hamstrings to relax.

After I get people into better position, I begin hammering their glutes. The glutes are pretty much non-existent when someone is so anteriorly rotated, so we need to get these powerful hip extensors going.

2. Neural Tension

It’s very common to see people who suffer from some sort of low back pain or disc issue to experience pain, tightness, or numbness/tingling going down the back of the leg. There could be nerve entrapment going on which is causing the symptoms to travel down the leg. Aggressively stretching these people will most likely make them worse. If you are suffering from any of these conditions, I would recommend going to see a physical therapist (one who is not stretching your hamstrings) to help reduce your symptoms.

3. Previous Hamstring Strain

Whenever you sustain an injury of any sort, that area is never the same. Especially when it comes to soft tissue injuries. The tissue density isn’t quite the same that it was prior to injury. Many hamstring strains occur near our ischial tuberosities (sit bones). This common attachment site hosts several different muscles and that congestion could be a large amount of force being placed on such a small area.

Also, there could be degenerative changes that could be going on. Since we are such a sedentary nation we could be causing changes due to long periods of sitting. And as we get older those degenerative changes become more severe compared to younger individuals.

4. Acute Hamstring Strain

Lastly, you could also be dealing with an acute hamstring strain. As an active individual, whether it be you are a lifter or a runner, you could be suffering from a  grade I strain and not know it. Whenever there is injury the body’s natural response is to tighten up to help reduce the risk of further injury. Based on the severity of your strain, it will dictate what you will and will not be able to do. Again, I would suggest that you go to a rehab professional to help improve your recovery.

To wrap up, “tight” hamstrings more often than not has to do with faulty positioning or movement patterns, like the glutes not properly doing their job. Be sure to get assessed by a professional to help improve any of these listed possibilities and get you back to doing when you love.

If you need help with achieving your health and fitness goals, help reduce your “tight” hamstrings, or just want to chat then leave a comment. If you want to work with me, consider becoming an online training client.

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