Whether you go for a jog around the block once and a while, have done a half or full marathon or are an ultra runner, your hamstrings are pretty important and they're probably a muscle you know is tight. Stretching is key for this muscle if you're a runner (secret everyone can benefit from this) but there are ways we should be stretching both before and after a run...and not the other way around.
Below is an image of the back of the pelvis and back of the femur with the hamstring muscles. You can find more details about the hamstring HERE.
WHY IS A RUNNER'S HAMSTRING AN ISSUE?
1. TIGHT : If the runner's hamstring is tight it will alter the biomechanics of running by shortening the stride, which will strain the muscles in the low back. WHY? The shorter the hamstring the less hip flexion during swing which will decrease the stride of the runner. This will leave the stride pattern suffering. This tightness pulls the pelvis into a posterior (backward) tilt which will decrease the natural curve of the low back. This is when the muscles in the low back come to the rescue to keep the pelvis in check and protect the spine but they can't keep the fight up for extended periods of time and that's when muscle fatigue and pain set in.
2. OVER STRETCHED: Now this might be a hard one to wrap your heads around but often tightness can come from hamstrings being overstretched. What? Stay with me here. This tightness happens when hamstrings are over-lengthened and they tighten from contraction. Let me explain. Some of our muscles have partners. These partners aid in their movement, ex. when you flex your bicep your tricep lengthens. This process is called Reciprocal Inhibition and is true for the hamstring and it's partner the quadricep. When the hamstring strengthens the quads lengthen but when the quads strengthen the hamstring lengthens. Now what is important to note here is that the quadriceps are a stronger group of muscles than the hamstrings and therefore if not monitored and balanced (with pre and post stretching and strengthening) over time you can be overloading strength into the quads and stressing out the hamstrings. Now your quadriceps attach to the front of your pelvis and if you're not balanced you will start to pull the pelvis in an anterior (forward) direction. With this tilt we are suddenly pulling more on the hamstrings as they attach at the back of the pelvis which is now being elevated. Ah ha I hear you say!
BALANCED HAMSTRING SUPPORT
So with your new information it is important to make sure that you are doing both hamstring stretches but also hamstring strength! Obviously we want to be working on the hamstring's partner the quadricep as well with stretches and strength too. Getting your hands on some blocks and a strap will also make your hamstring stretches more accessible and comfortable on your lower back.
Before you run you want to be doing more dynamic stretching and strength. What do I mean by dynamic? This means moving, not long holds and slightly bouncing in and out of the stretches. We use this type of stretching to warm up the muscles to improve their function. Dynamic stretching will prepare the muscles for more intense forms of exercise, especially good for those triathletes and endurance runners. It gets the blood pumping, wakes you up and helps to get you more alert, which is what you need to stay safe and injury free during your run.
Hold the elbows, fold forward and bend at the knees (forward fold). Once here start to take small bobs up and down. Do 30, roll up, repeat another 30.
Low lunge to runner's lunge back and forth. Back knee on the ground arms up transition bum back and straighten front leg pulling toes to face and place hands on the ground. Repeat x10.
Downward dog peddling out the legs.
Hamstring strength standing on one leg. Pull heel to bum with hand. Let go and squeeze heel to bum with hamstring. Pulse for 10 and switch.
At the end of your run you're going to want to do more passive stretches. These are longer holds for generally 30-60 seconds at least. When you do longer stretches you lengthen the muscle which makes the muscle weaker in the immediate but stronger in the long run. This is why you wouldn't want to do passive stretching before a run because you would not have the control and rebound of the muscles needed. There is another benefit to passive stretching after a run and that is to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. When you do exercise you spend a lot of the time in your sympathetic nervous system which keeps you alert and active but, again to find balance, we want to be able to transition out of this and be able to relax. Slowing down and holding stretches lengthens our muscles and our breath which calms our mind and heart.
Standing hamstring stretch. Extend one leg our further and bend back knee. Push into the front foot as if you were pressing into the gas peddle, keep hips square, and start to fold forward.
Wide leg seated forward fold. Sit on your bum and extend the legs as wide as you feel comfortable. You can sit on a black to help hips tilt forward. Flex feet and fold keeping spine straight for 60 seconds. Then soften feet and collapse down, rounding spine, for another 60.
Strap stretches. Use a strap, dressing gown belt or scarf. Lay on your back and extend on leg to the sky. Straighten the leg and gentle pull towards you. Flex foot to feel into the hamstring more.
Here is a 60 minute workshop designed for the runner and targeting the hamstrings and supporting muscles. The workshop is split into two with the first half dedicated to pre-run and the second half to post-run. Do the first half before you head out and the second half when you return from your run!
Want to improve your visualisation, self belief and breathing while running? Try my 10 DAYS TO ABUNDANCE COURSE and change the patterns of the mind to be more positive. You'll be impressed with the impact these meditations, breathing practices, yoga nidras and yoga classes will have on your running.