Tight hamstrings do more than affect your performance in the gym; they also put a damper on your everyday life. The hamstrings are a group of three posterior thigh muscles that connect the hip joint to the knee joint. They are responsible for extending the hips, flexing the knee and moving the lower leg. When the muscles are tight, you'll probably feel pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs and knees. However, spending some significant time stretching can loosen and lengthen the muscles.
Lengthening and loosening your hamstring muscles could take several weeks or several months, says Sabrena Merrill, a veteran of the fitness industry and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. The exact amount of time depends on your degree of tightness, diligence in stretching and your anatomy — if you were born with short hamstrings, you may never have the same level of flexibility that someone with longer hamstrings has. However, continued improvements should be noticeable each week.
Why So Tight?
According to Merrill, the increase in the population with tight hamstrings is related to the decrease in our population's activity levels. Sitting at a desk or on the couch for several hours a day puts the hamstring muscles in a shortened state. Over time, this compression can cause the muscles to actually become shorter, thus leading to tightness. Merrill says that hamstring tightness can begin as early as age 6 when children spend a majority of their day sitting at their desks in school. Other causes include genetics and not stretching after physical activity.
Putting in the Effort
You can stretch the hamstrings while seated or lying down. While there are other known hamstring stetches that require you to stand, this is not as productive because your hamstrings are still active and engaged while standing, which will not allow them to fully relax and loosen. Merrill recommends two hamstring stretches, but as with any stretch, warm up the body first with 10 to 15 minutes of easy physical activity such as walking or jogging.