Tight hamstrings are a societal epidemic. Many people complain about this, especially as it affects low back pain. But what about running? Is hamstring flexibility needed for distance running? And what about those that regularly stretch their hamstrings, but still feel tight, what’s up with that? What are the underlying issues that contribute to tight hamstrings?
This brings us to Grant’s story. He is a former collegiate runner who is currently lighting up the 5k – half marathon scene. His left hamstring has been problematic for several years, mostly with the sensation of being tight, which seems to affect other areas as well. Let’s check out his running form initially. Please forgive the finger obstruction on many of the videos!
Overall, his form is pretty decent. Perhaps he’s been coached before, or perhaps he has good genes (not that a brother would be biased about that!). However, there are still improvements to be made. It’s subtle, but there is a slight wobble of his left knee and overall slowness to fully load the left leg during the landing/loading phase. This indicates that his gluts and hamstrings aren’t on the same page during the loading phase. It should be a team effort between the gluts and hamstrings, a synergy, and if it’s not perfectly graceful, this would be an example of an imbalance. Also, his hips and core generally appear rather tight and apprehensive. When considering movements of the hips and core, too much movement is not a good thing, but not enough can also be detrimental.
So, how do we tease that out. First, a single leg squat, but with a twist. Positioning his arms in these ways takes the gluts out of the picture, which places more emphasis on the quads and hamstrings. I assumed that we would see a big asymmetry with this, but his was definitely subtle. Doing squats this way helps to strengthen the quads and hamstrings in order to protect the knee when the gluts are distracted by something else (take note team sport athletes!)
Here’s a stretch for the gluts to get his hips more open.
Next, a high end hamstring strengthening activity. See my previous post on hamstring function for a more thorough dissertation. The important thing to consider is that the hamstrings need to stabilize the knee as well as help put the brakes on the upper body during the loading phase. So, here’s a way to emphasize that. He’s holding about 15 pounds, which is likely higher than most people will need!
Next, he did simple power skips to develop quickness of the load-to-push-off transition and get his arm swing more forward/backward.
Now we’re really having fun! Next he ran with the weight overhead. This places a huge load on the hips, forcing them to respond quickly to the landing phase.
But we can’t stop there, we also had him run with the weight overhead and to the side. When the weight is to the right, as in this video, it gives the left gluts an advantage and the right side a disadvantage. Essentially, this places more effort on the right hamstrings.
On the flip side, running with hands to the left places more effort on the left hamstrings. In this next video, his left knee looks more wobbly. So again, this helps confirm that imbalance between the gluts and hamstrings is an area he could improve on. Doing this as a drill helps teach the gluts and hamstrings to be comfortable working, even as the terrain or demands change.
So, after all this, here’s the new and improved Grant!
His left leg looks more stable and quick during the loading phase, which indicates that his hamstrings are working much better. His hips and core also look open and powerful which will help him use his abs and hips more efficiently. With constant attention to keeping the hamstring/glut relationship happy, this will make him more efficient and less injury prone. Great job Grant!