Hamstrings are perhaps a well-known muscle group, yet many people do not know exactly what they are used for.
The hamstrings are the muscle group located at the back of the thigh and consist of the Biceps Femoris, Semimembranosus, and Semitendinosus. These muscles carry out everyday movements such as running and walking. More specifically they are used when flexing (bending) the knee, extending the thigh and assisting with external rotation of the hip. Proper training of the hamstrings is vital for lower back health. Additionally, it can increase performance in sports that consist of powerful lower body movements.
Considering the amount of sitting Americans do on a normal basis nowadays, it is more important than ever to care for our bodies by continuing to move regularly and relieve any areas of the body that become tight due to sedentary habits. Regular, prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity cause the hamstring muscles to become weakened, compromising posture and core strength, ultimately leading to back pain. Luckily, proper training corrects many muscular imbalances.
The hamstrings attach to the posterior side of the pelvis, which is right below the buttocks. They insert at the back of femur behind the knee. If your hamstrings are tight or fatigued from a workout, you will likely feel sore at the back of the leg between the knee and the buttocks.
Strengthening and lengthening the hamstrings is important in maintaining proper pelvis alignment and core strength. In sports that require powerful movements such as running, jumping, or agile movements, the hamstrings work together with other muscle groups of the hips and legs to recruit muscles in the proper sequence and achieve optimal performance.
Prolonged periods of sitting cause the muscles at the front of the hip and thigh, collectively known as the hip flexors, to become shortened and tight. Conversely, it allows the hamstrings to remain inactive and lengthened for long periods of time and therefore become weaker. This can lead to a condition called anterior pelvic tilt, in which the pelvis tilts forward, causing an exaggerated arch of the lower region of the spine. As a result, the muscles of the lower back also become tight, leading to lower back pain and possible tightness at the front of the hips.
How to Improve your Hamstring Health:
To combat this, one would benefit from stretching the muscles located at the front of the hips and strengthening the hamstrings in order to realign the pelvis. Posterior pelvic tilt, on the other hand, occurs when the hip flexors are lengthened and the hamstrings are tight; this can be a result of a larger abdominal region which weakens muscles of the core, or in women who wear high heels on a regular basis, to name a few examples. The solution would be to lengthen the hamstrings and straighten the hip flexors.
There are simple exercises that can be done to strengthen and lengthen the hamstrings and improve the health of the lower body, spine, and core overall.
Hamstring Strengthening Exercises:
Using either a machine or lying on your stomach with the legs stretched out straight, bend at the knees bringing your heels toward your butt. Slowly lower and repeat. Be sure to keep your pelvis slightly tucked under to avoid arching your back.
Swiss ball curls:
Lying on your back, place your heels at the top and center of an exercise ball. Engage the core and press your heels into the ball to bring your hips off the ground. Starting in this position, keep the hips elevated as you bend at the knee to bring your heels toward your butt, keeping the heels in contact with the ball. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Starting with feet hip-width apart, hold a weight in front of you with your palms facing in toward your thighs. Keeping a slight bend in the knee, pull your hips back so that your upper body lowers and your butt pulls back. The movement should come from a hinge at the hips. Pause at a point that feels comfortable, and squeeze the buttocks to bring your hips back to starting position.
Using the same concept as a standard deadlift, perform this one using one leg planted to add a balance challenge. As you hinge forward, maintain a slight bend in the planted leg, and allow the other leg to extend behind you. Be sure to engage your core throughout the entire movement and keep both sides of the hips square facing the ground.
Hamstring Lengthening Exercises/Stretches:
Hips swings are an excellent way to loosen the back of the leg before or after exercise when the body is already warmed up. Gently swing one leg forward and back, only as high as is comfortable to avoid overstretching. Repeat 10-20 times.
Supine hamstring stretch (optional with a strap):
Lying on your back, place one leg flat on the ground. If your hamstrings feel extra tight, bend at the knee. With your hand behind the knee, gently pull the other leg toward the front of your body. You can also do this with a strap looped around your foot. Keep the leg mostly straight with a slight bend in the knee. Only pull as far as is comfortable to avoid overstretching.
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