When I first start working with new massage clients, I hear a lot of complaints about the hamstring muscle group. Those big, strong muscles on the back of your upper leg. In general, people describe their hamstrings as tight and achy. I’m sure you know or have experienced that dull and constant tightness or pulling sensation. When I get them on the massage table, a few other things become obvious extremely quickly. Hint: it isn’t the hamstrings’ fault. So today, I am going to break down some common myths about the hamstring muscle group. We might even get into why you should stop stretching your hamstrings and what to do instead.
#1 Your Hamstrings Aren’t Tight
Yes, they may feel achy. But the tension in your hamstrings isn’t actually tightness. Think about it like a rubber band that has been over-stretched. When you stretch out the rubber band and hold it there, the rubber band feels taut because the tension level is being maintained. Same in the Hamstrings.
#2 Stretching Won’t Work
So if your Hamstrings are like the rubber band in the above scenario, they are already stretched. Often, the hamstrings are OVER stretched. So stretching doesn’t work to alleviate the discomfort long-term. It may feel good for a few minutes, but then it’s right back to achy. Especially if you go right back to sitting for long periods of time after stretching.
#3 Strengthening Might Not Work Either
Isolated strengthening of the hamstring muscle group might help, but it might not. Overall, this is a better strategy than stretching, but it still has its flaws. In order for the human body to remain upright and move with equal balance and mobility, the musculature needs to balance out. If the hamstrings are over stretched or longer than they need to be, then that means there is a group of muscles opposite the hamstrings that are shorter and tighter than they need to be. If you simply strengthen the hamstrings and call it a day, you are not addressing the shortened muscles (quadriceps and hip flexors). These shortened muscles would continue to pull on the pelvis and put the hamstrings muscles in a lengthened position.
#4 Sitting Is More Harmful Than You Think
If you have to sit most of the day, good luck staying mobile and pain-free. Human bodies are beautiful adapters. Meaning, our body adapts to what we do, how we spend our time, and the ways we move (or don’t). There is a ton of research out there showing the correlation between sedentary lives and increased health conditions such as heart disease, cancers, obesity, and diabetes. What I would love to see is more widespread resources and information on the effects of sitting on joint health and mobility as we age. If you knew that in your sixties you would need a hip replacement or that a few years from now you had a herniated disc and surgery was recommended, and all you needed to do to prevent it was sit less, would you?
#5 An Hour At The Gym Doesn’t Undo 8 At The Desk
Picture this. It is a normal work week and you got to the office after a 30 minute commute. You head to your desk and get straight to work. Busy GSD (getting stuff done), you work all the way til lunch. Take a 15-20 min break sitting at your desk to eat. Then you get back to work and finish the day strong with only 1 break from your desk to head to the conference room. After work, you drive your 20 minutes to the gym for your regular workout. After 8-10 hours of sitting, you feel stiff and achy. It takes a bit, but eventually you get warmed up. Do a little cardio or lifting, maybe even a HIIT class. A couple pains here and there, but that’s just age creeping in, right? No time for stretching, the family is waiting at home.
YIKES! No wonder your back hurts and your legs are tight. I hear stories like this all the time. I can’t blame the people telling them either. We have been sold this story that working out every day erases all that time sitting. Yes, regular and consistent exercise is great for heart health. In truth, we are putting our joints and mobility in a very tough position. Adding additional weight and pressure to already compromised structures is a recipe for injuries, immobility, and long-term pain.
What To Do Instead
Am I saying don’t stretch, don’t lift weights, and don’t go to the gym? I am absolutely not saying that at all. I am saying get your ducks in a row first. AKA get in alignment, get your joints balanced and stacked, and then you can take it to the next level. Here are my recommendations.
- Sit less. Period. Don’t sit for long periods of time. Stand up and put your body in alignment at least every 30 minutes.
- Have your alignment checked. A knowledgeable massage therapist or chiropractor can help you with this. Or you can do the selfie method.
- Stretch and foam roll (the quads) BEFORE working out to help create muscular balance surrounding the joints. Even better if focused on your individual areas of imbalance. Mobility, flexibility, and strength come before strength. No strength or high intensity training on compromised structures.
Start there and let me know how it goes 🙂