Last article, we tackled four exercises to help unlock tight hips, including ones that release restricted glutes and hip rotator muscles. These muscles are part of the “posterior chain”, a term that represents muscles that take up real estate on the backside of our body. And in the case of the glutes and rotators, our literal, ahem, “backside”. Other muscles that comprise our posterior chain are the spinal erectors, latissimus dorsi, hamstrings, and calves. General rule of thumb: if it’s hard to see the muscle without a mirror, it’s likely part of your posterior chain. The balance of mobility and strength of the posterior chain muscles has significant impacts on our running power and injury resilience. So, let’s travel down the chain to the next serious player: the hamstrings.
The hamstrings are actually a group of three muscles with a shared tendon and attachment point on the “sit bone'', or the part of the pelvis directly below the glute maximus. Each of the three muscles also attach on the inside or outside portion of the knee. This muscle group is vitally important to running power. It also stabilizes the knee while running, particularly during the stance phase of our stride by co-contracting with the quad. Tightness or weakness in the hamstrings can increase the effort needed to maintain a given pace of any run, not just speed workouts. Additionally, it can affect the long-term likelihood of pulling or tearing the hamstring, or worse, injuring ligaments in our knee. We will deep dive how to correct weakness of the posterior chain in future articles. For now, let’s look at relieving tightness.
The order of this routine is important: start sitting, progress to standing. It begins in a seated position so the hamstrings are fully relaxed and able to be passively mobilized, i.e. no muscle action needed from the hamstring or adjacent muscles. However, as the routine progresses, exercises are completed in the standing position. This is ideal as it incrementally readies the hamstrings for the specific task at hand and thus is great for pre-run or any free 8 minute period in your day!
Long glide foam roll
Goal: aim for gentle rolls to warm up the muscle and encourage the hamstring and fascial fibers to glide fluidly.
Form tips: perform this with both legs on the foam roller, or with one leg crossed over the opposite, for increased intensity. Roll from the bottom of the glute to 2 inches above the knee.
Ball rolling for isolating tight points
Goal: once both legs feel warm from foam rolling, switch to a tennis ball, lacrosse ball or baseball to specifically target tight or tender points in the muscle.
Form tips: improve the release of tightness by pausing the roll when you reach a tender point. Slowly and gently sink into the ball for 15-20 seconds.
Standing single leg knee to chest
Goal: dynamically target and relieve tightness in the upper fibers of the hamstring.
Form tips: stand near a wall, tree or fence so that if balance is a limiter you may gently lean into the structure to remove the balance challenge. Remember the goal is mobilization, not balance.
Straight leg leg swing
Goal: dynamically move the hamstring and hip through the full range of available motion. Bonus! This also targets tightness in the hip flexors.
Form tips: before swinging, check that your pelvis is level, or parallel with the ground. Gently contract your core and swing the leg, not allowing the low back to arch in the backswing.
Bent knee leg swing
Goal: as in the knee to chest, bending the knee aids in targeting the upper fibers of the hamstring. Bonus! This also targets the glute maximus and hip flexor.
Form tips: before swinging, check that your pelvis is level, or parallel with the ground. Gently contract your core and swing the leg, not allowing the low back to arch in the backswing. Maintain a bend in the knee throughout the motion.
Next time we will discuss the lower part of our posterior chain: the calves! Come back from some super effective techniques to add to your arsenal.
- Coach Asher
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Asher Kyger Henry, PT, CSCS, PES
Asher is a sports physical therapist, run and strength coach at Dasher Personalized Running. She partners with trail and road runners to create training programs that maximize joy and mitigate injury. Asher’s running accolades include a 5th place finish at the US Half Marathon Championships and four All-american honors in track and cross country.