How to Fix Constantly Tight Hamstrings

7 min read.

Listen here, Susan!

 
(I don’t know your name so I will call you Susan for this blog.)

 
You’re blaming your hamstrings for everything, when they’re probably the thing trying to hold your body together - and the stuff you keep doing to them won’t help because it’s not what they actually need!

 
You shouldn’t crave stretching your hamstrings all the time, you shouldn’t need to sit on a lacrosse ball or get your mate to rub a barbell over your hamstrings all the time, you shouldn’t wake up feeling like your hamstrings are going to snap… none of that is normal, and your blind belief that your hamstrings are always so tight and that’s just how it is, is what is going to stop you ever making a change to how your body feels.

 
Before you dismiss this blog and think “well, these things help me” …JUST BECAUSE SOMETHING FEELS LIKE IT HELPS AT THE TIME DOES NOT MEAN IT IS CORRECTING AN ACTUAL ISSUE, WILL EVER ADDRESS A CAUSE, OR FIX ANYTHING LONG TERM.

 
So… instead of these lovely, but short-term fixes, what should you work on to free yourself from hamstring tyranny? 

 
1.   Hip Flexibility
2.   Hip Stability
3.   Hip Hinge
4.   Knee Flexion

 
Sound difficult & boring? It’s actually easy to get good at all four! Let’s break them down, see why they’re important and how to improve them!

 

Number 1: Good Hip Flexibility


Let’s be frank, Susan, if your hip flexibility sucks there’s no amount of hamstring exercises that will EVER help your hamstrings, and I truly mean that.

 
The amount of people I’ve met who are chronic hamstringbators, yet do nothing for their hip rotation, extension or flexion is nuts. If there are limitations in your hips then your hamstrings are picking up the slack - that’s what makes them feel tight all the time.


Once you have hips that move like hips should, all the supporting muscles are actually able to do their job… then and only then will your hamstrings stop feeling so tight and overworked.

 
All the movements for good hip flexibility are inside The Simplistic Mobility Method but you can check your Internal & External Rotation right now using the 90/90 position. If you struggle with this then you do not have a hamstring problem - you have shit hips.

 
youtubeid=rTfh-fZYVcM

 
If you struggle to touch your toes with straight legs, working on your overall hip flexibility will make a massive difference. Your hips should always be your first focus, and once you can easily do the 90/90? Sure, add on a few specific hamstrings stretches, but you may find you just don’t need them.

 
 

Number 2: Good Hip Stability


Susan... if you can’t stabilise or balance on one leg, then your body is going to slow you down to protect itself. How does it do that? Stiffness, tightness & tension.

 
Your body doesn’t want you to fall in case you hit your head - it’s that simple. When your hips don’t have good stability, you will basically start to shuffle when walking and it becomes a vicious cycle of stretch > become less stable > become more stiff > stretch… etc.

 
The nice thing is that you can easily work stability every day while including hamstring activation!

 
Remember that muscles don’t just move forwards and backwards, there’s a lot more room for strength at all angles. Yes, forwards/backwards positions like the Deadlift are best for generating the most power and lifting the most weight, but how well your body adapts to small movements and random rotations is incredibly important for how your hamstrings feel.
 

The Clockwork Single Leg Deadlift is great for teaching yourself how to activate your while also challenging your lower body stability (Plus, as a bonus they also build foot strength and knee stability). Having this strength gives you a lot more “wiggle room” for when you’re playing sports, training... and just life in general!

youtubeid=i9UHfGZWcME
 

“That’s too easy” I’ll often hear... yeah well why the flop flip are you struggling so much after 5 minutes then, Susan?! Do you want to be able to go all night long or not?! It may look simple, but when you spend time working on this you’ll see how easily your hips, calves, glutes and hamstrings fatigue... and they really shouldn’t. 

 
 

Number 3: Understanding the “Hinge”


The Deadlift, picking up bodies off the floor, whatever you want to call it Suzy (we’re friendly enough that I can call you Suzy now) is a fundamental skill. You NEED to know how to load your hips, your glutes & your hamstrings when lifting something heavy off the floor to protect your low back. When you hinge, your hamstrings need to automatically know that it’s their time to shine and fire up - and that takes practice!

 
I often say that I’m still learning about the Deadlift. I’ve been deadlifting for years, taught the deadlift to many, many people, yet I still record and analyse my technique, making occasional tweaks and adjustments. It’s so easy to think you’re doing something right when you are really not - bad habits can always creep in no matter how advanced you think you are Susan (yes, back to Susan because you’re in trouble again)

 
No, you don’t need to deadlift heavy, or even frequently but you should know how to do it. If some random crazy person, like me, stopped you in the street and asked to see your deadlift position you would automatically be able to go into it without hesitation and I would slap your booty with approval and we would go on about our day.

 
But the truth is you’d slowly lower down into a feeble half squat and have a look on your face as if to say, “I think this is....”

 
You should KNOW! If you want to have confidence in your hamstrings you need to know this stuff and it’s up to you to practice and experiment.

 
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If you know how to engage your hamstrings when lifting heavy thing then you’ll generally have more access to your hamstrings in day-to-day life. You don’t need to brace to pick up a pen, but your 4 year old kid, a table, or garden furniture? Having a good deadlift will mean you can lift them with no fear of tweaking your hamstring or “blowing your back out”, and the barbell is the best place to learn that.

 
Hamstrings want to feel strong, not loose. Over-stretching paired with a lack of lifting ability is a terrible combination.

 
 

Number 4: Understanding Knee Flexion


Ok Suze, here’s the last thing that’s incredibly overlooked by people with hamstring issues and they SUCK x1000 at it. Your hamstring flexes your knee, pulls your heel towards your butt, if you struggle to do that then you’re going to have a bad time in life.

 
The best exercise to test your ability is the Hamstring Slider. A lot harder than it looks, and people with hamstring issues will find it’s nearly impossible to keep their hips in full extension while doing this.

 youtubeid=IUqvGYeXAdk

I noticed that many people with hamstring tendonitis, or who were stretching all the time was that they really struggled to do this exercise at all… yet it’s a basic function of your hamstrings!

 
I’ve seen this drill fix many people who’ve had constant hamstring problems for years, so it is worth investing time into until you can do it. Work at it until you can do 3 sets of 15 reps with relative ease and then after that, the strength is there and you won’t need this drill as often. It’s a nice finisher on leg day, but you don’t need to obsess over it.

 

So, they are the MOST important things to consider when it comes to your hamstrings Susan, plus an exercise to try for each principle:

 
Hip Flexibility: 90/90 Rotations
Hip Stability: Single Leg Clockwork Drill
Hip Hinge: The Deadlift
Knee Flexion: Hamstring Sliders 

  
And I can hear you say “Oh! But there’s no hamstring stretches there, this mustn’t be what I need”

 
DAMMIT SUSBAM!! *ahem* Susan.

 
Here’s a bunch of hamstring stretches you can do until your face falls off:

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But I want to reiterate my point – hamstring stretching is nice, not essential. Well-functioning hips and good hamstring awareness is key to overcoming your problems. So sure, stretch them if you want, but if you struggle with any of the four exercises that I gave you in this blog then you have a GLARINGLY obvious issue that will not be rectified by avoiding them and continuing to stretch.

 
Trust me, I’ve seen enough people repeating the same mistakes for long enough - I even used to do it myself... that’s right, I was once a Susan... (apologies to any real-life Susan’s)

 
Want to know how to start your mobility journey and not risk missing anything important? Check out our online programs here.

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