Tight hamstrings are one of the biggest plagues over young athletes.
The problem: How much does it really matter?
A lot of young athletes have trouble hitting a full hamstring stretch or touching their toes. The fix? Usually its hamstring stretches.
Hamstring stretching will not help the following causes of hamstring tightness:
- Growth spurts
- Core instability
- Weak hamstrings
- Anterior pelvic tilt
- Lack of motor control
- Limb length
Hamstring stretching would only really help if the hamstrings were truly short. This is not often the real issue. Start with the above.
Blindly telling an athlete stretch their hamstrings may not actually solve an problems. I don’t see it causing any either so its not a bad thing but potentially a bad strategy.
Very few sports require a high level of hamstring flexibility. The sport an athlete plays will actually influence how flexible their hamstrings are. Dancers, gymnasts, and cheerleaders will have more flexible hamstrings than hockey players.
Hockey players do not need the same range of motion and will adapt to that.
But tight hamstrings will lead to injury right? Well…
Hamstring Strength is More Important
Most hamstring injuries happen because the hamstrings are weak, not inflexible.
Typically a hamstring strain or pull will happen because the force placed on the muscle is too great for it to handle.
Sprinting is a good way to suffer a hamstring injury but distance running is not. The intensity of sprinting over distance running is the key difference. More force is placed on the muscles during sprinting.
The best way to improve force handling on a muscle is strength. Strength is defined as the amount of force a muscle can produce. Eccentric strength is the ability to absorb force during the lowering portion of the muscle action.
Absorbing and producing force are the best defenses to hamstring injury. RDLs and Partner glute hams are great for developing eccentric strength because of the lowering of the exercise. And since the exercise doesn’t stop at the lowering, we get the force producing benefits.
Opt for Hip Hinge Ability vs. Hamstring Flexibility
The ability to hinge the hips is much more important for athletes than the passive range of motion at the hamstrings.
The hip hinge is important for a number of reasons.
- Strength in deadlifts, swings, RDL’s, etc. is important for preventing lower body injury
- Increasing sprinting speed
- Decreasing the amount of time to slow down, improving quickness
- Improving power production
The benefits of good hamstring flexibility are showing off how flexible your hamstrings are.
I will take the hip hinge every day. Improving the hip hinge requires core stability and motor control. Athletes must be able to brace their core and push the hips back without rounding at the torso.
A lot of athletes have never been in this position before and need to learn it. We can look to hip mobility after core stability and motor control have been worked on.
It is easy to say that an athlete is having trouble because their hamstrings are tight and they need to stretch. I rarely tell people to stretch these days. Even when I did no one did it on their own. So when nothing improves we can blame them for not stretching.
It’s a lot harder to actually breakdown an athlete’s movement and find the root cause. I would be really skeptical any time someone starts talking about the consequences of tight hamstrings. Chances are they are making misinformed, general statements.