One of the key muscle groups that help us to reach down and touch our toes are our hamstring muscles and they are prone to tightness.
Our hamstrings run down the back of our legs from the pelvis to the inside and outside of the knees. They are made up of three muscles and their main job is to bend our knees (ankle to bottom) and to help our glutes (bum muscles) to extend our legs backwards when walking and running. So they’re pretty key in the movement stakes, stopping us from toppling over forwards!
The hamstring muscles form part of our kinetic chain of body parts that are connected from the tips of our fingers, along our arms, shoulders, back, hips, legs and down to our toes. These inter-related groups of bones, muscles and joints work together to perform movements. Tight hamstrings can make it uncomfortable to stand for long periods or walk longer distances.
Why do hamstrings tighten up?
All muscles tighten with overuse. If you start running after a break, for instance, hamstrings will feel tight the next day but it shouldn’t last too long. If your hamstrings stay tight for a long time it might be because they’re continually working too hard. This is often due to sitting for long periods in bad posture as your hip flexors shorten and glute muscles can’t perform as they should. In turn, the hamstrings have to work harder to help out, leading to their overuse.
Maintaining hamstring flexibility can help with injury prevention, low back pain and overall mobility, especially as we get older. Static stretches tend to help at the end of a workout where you hold a position for several seconds, whilst dynamic stretches help to warm up the body before a workout by repeating the stretches for 60 seconds in a controlled way.
Hamstring stretches are easy to include in your weekly stretch routine or to do on their own more frequently, they can be done standing, sitting or lying down. Yoga and Pilates are excellent ways to keep your hamstrings flexible.
A good way to test your hamstring flexibility is by touching your toes – how far from your toes are your finger tips? You can do this stretch standing up or sitting on the floor, but always bend from the hips rather than curving your back over. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds (or start with 10 and work your way up). With some daily glute, hamstring and calf stretches to help out, you will find that you can reach a little further every day.
For more hamstring and other essential stretches, check out our Pilates and stretch online workouts at www.gemmapearcefitness.co.uk