Tight hamstrings are a major issue for runners, they’re are often shocked to learn their hamstrings need to be stronger. But can yoga for tight hamstrings help?
As a runner you’re likely to strike the ground around 1,000 times per mile, with a force of two or three times your bodyweight. This can cause major impact to the ligaments, bone structures and muscles, throughout your body, particularly the hamstrings. Therefore, the overall health and balance of this muscle group is extremely important.
Structure of the Hamstrings
The functions of the hamstrings are fairly simple – to pull the leg back as the hip extends forward and flex or bend the knee. Running involves both actions on a continuous basis.
The hamstrings are the muscle mass at the back of the upper leg, originating at the sitting bones and attaching at the lower leg bones. The tightness felt at the back of the legs, especially when bending forward, is the hamstrings. The well known flexibility test of touching your toes is largely a test for these muscles. Having tight hamstrings can have a considerable impact on your freedom of movement and the health of your joints. It is important to maintain a reasonable range of motion in the hamstrings to be able to move freely, safely and painlessly.
Although a major concern for runners, tight hamstrings can affect anyone. While seated, the hamstring muscles are inactive and are held at a shortened length. Therefore, the tightening of the hamstrings starts at the age of five or six, when most children begin school. For most, this continues throughout school and into careers that require hours of sitting. Like other parts of the body, the hamstrings are adversely affected by sitting for extended periods of time. In May 2018, we hosted a webinar entitled Sedentary behaviour: Where do we stand? which discussed the health impacts of sitting for long periods of time.
Running, Yoga and the Hamstrings
Due to its repetitive nature, running can lead to injuries. Physically, yoga restores balance and symmetry of the body, making it perfect for runners. Runners are often drawn to yoga to deal with specific issues, such as improving flexibility or helping with an injury. This makes yoga for tight hamstrings extremely beneficial for runners. In fact, many Ultramarathon runners have already added yoga to their training. More benefits and effects of yoga are detailed in Yoga for Runners.
Working on the flexibility of your hamstrings can help increase the length of your stride and improve your speed. Therefore it’s beneficial to include a strength, as mentioned in our post Strength and conditioning training to improve your 5k run time, and stretching workout as part of your training programme.
Almost every style of yoga involves forward bending. When done properly, forward bending is an effective way to stretch the hamstrings and back muscles. However, if done incorrectly, forward bending can put a strain on the lower back and hamstrings. Ironically, those with the tightest hamstrings need to stretch the most, but also need to exercise the most caution while doing so.
Stretching alone is not enough. In yoga you should also seek to consciously contract the hamstrings for support and to create ease and stability in various poses. Hamstrings that are balanced in strength and flexibility keep the spine in proper alignment, relieve lower back pain and help stabilise the hips.
For more information on why you should add yoga to your training programme, check out our blog post from February 2017, Six reasons why athletes should do yoga.
Yoga for Tight Hamstrings
The poses below are for designed to help stretch and strengthen your hamstrings. Adding just a few minutes a day of yoga for tight hamstrings can benefit your body and athletic performance.
Hamstrings Eccentric Stretch
- Lie flat on your back with legs bent.
- Extend, lift and straighten the right leg and clasp hands around the thigh or calf.
- Finally, strongly pull the leg toward you and at the same time, strongly press it away from you into the hands.
- The more resistance you create, the deeper the stretch will be.
This pose stretches the hamstrings, while they maintain tension, making them less likely to overstretch. This pose is also good for those with acute hamstring injuries or those prone to overstretching.
- Start on the hands and knees, in a neutral spine position.
- Lift the left leg, bending in 90 degrees, with the ankle over the knee. The thigh should be in line with the hip and the foot flexed. Be sure not to let the weight shift to the left.
- Consciously contract the hamstrings and slowly move the leg upwards, about 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 inches). As you press your thigh upward, imagine you are pressing into resistance. Release the thigh to hip height and repeat the pulsing action. Keep your hips square, ensuring the weight doesn’t shift. Use a slow and controlled movement, rather than moving with momentum.
- Repeat on the other side.
This pose helps strengthen your hamstrings and glutes.
These poses, plus more yoga for tight hamstrings poses can be found in Christine Felstead’s Yoga for Runners.