Tight Hamstrings In Running

A blog for people who sit still or run quickly…
◷ 3 minute read. In a hurry? Scroll down for our 60-second summary

How many times have you watched a 100m race and seen a sprinter stop halfway through, grabbing the back of his leg? It happens to the best of them, in fact – the very best; Usain Bolt did this in his last ever race, the 4x100m relay in the 2017 World Championships. It stopped his team winning a gold medal and he then had to pull out of a charity football match the following week, where he was due to play for his beloved Man United. So please read this blog, as I’d hate the same thing to happen to you…

What Are Tight Hamstrings?

Think this is a dumb question? Actually it’s not. Sometimes the muscle will be short so the hamstring will feel tight. Sometimes it will be overstretched – ie, long – and it will also feel tight. The human brain has no way of distinguishing between the feeling of a hamstring which needs stretching and a hamstring that most definitely doesn’t need stretching!

A tight hamstring feeling could also be sciatic nerve tension. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back, in between the hamstring muscles, down to the calf. Repetitive activities can cause the sciatic nerve to become compressed underneath the hip.

Why Do Runners Get Tight Hamstrings?

There are several common causes of tight hamstrings, such as:

  • Long hours of sitting in the same position, eg driving. Walking stretches the hamstrings, sitting in the same position shortens them. Sitting in the driving seat compresses them into the same position – that’s another thing to get stressed about whilst you’re stuck in traffic!
  • Cycling. This activity stretches the top part of the hamstring but not the bottom, which often leads to an imbalance.
  • Suddenly introducing speedwork into your running. If you’ve enjoyed a bit of recreational jogging, seen a documentary where Sir Roger Bannister does 400m reps and thought ‘right, so that’s how I become a running legend…’, then let me stop you there – speedwork needs to be introduced gradually.

Hamstrings stabilise the body when the core can’t. If you have back issues or a weak core, your hamstrings may take over in stabilising your core and back.

Why Is Improving Tight Hamstrings Important For Runners?

Hamstrings give you speed and power, so you need to keep them in good shape. Having that ‘kick’ towards the finish of a race can make you feel like a vintage Steve Cram, even if you’re blowing away Doris in the local half marathon or pushing for a 29:59 parkrun.

You may be happy to lose to Doris or clock a 30:01, but you should still be interested in the good running form and injury avoidance which well performing hamstrings will give you.

Your hamstrings also control the speed of your descent when you run downhill. This action lengthens the hamstrings, so that is definitely one of the below…

What Are The Potential Risks Of Neglecting Tight Hamstrings?

Your hamstrings have to be the right length. If they’re too short, you’ll keep experiencing problems, which are likely to cause damage to the hamstring and spread to your back. They’re also likely to affect your running action – most likely shortening your stride – which will slow you down and make you look a bit silly.

In a worst case scenario a tight hamstring could lead to a hamstring tear. Then that tear will be a weak spot that will need rehabilitation and strengthening before you can be confident enough to try to get close to your previous speed.


what you need to know
  • Hamstrings give you power and acceleration and control deceleration

  • The human brain finds it very difficult to distinguish between the feeling of hamstrings that are too short, hamstrings that are too long and sciatic tension

  • The hamstrings can be shortened in several ways from the lazy (sitting at your PC too long) to the active (cycling or trying to run to quickly, too soon)

  • Failure to address tight hamstrings can lead to back issues or hamstrings tears, which can be quite a serious injury

Want To Loosen Your Tight Hamstrings?

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