The hamstrings are a very complex, but obviously significant part of the body. Forming the backside of the leg, the group consists of three major muscles, with long and difficult-to-remember names: the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and the biceps femoris. The basic role of the hamstrings are to keep us walking or running, or doing yoga! The hamstrings limit the extension of the knee so that the leg will swing backwards. They maintain the cyclic motion of our legs and keeps us moving. A pretty important job.
The difficulty is they can sometimes give us a bit of jip = trouble. Most of us take our legs for granted from the moment we wake up to when we lay down. It’s an automatic reflex, to get up and walk, and use the hamstrings. So what is happening when the hamstrings need attention?
Looking at the muscles themselves, the hamstrings start at the hip, attached at different points to the pelvis, and stretch down to the knee, where they are attached to the back of the tibia and fibula. The hamstring (as a group of three muscles) is not as strong as the muscles in the front of the leg, the quadriceps (a group of four muscles). One of the main roles of the hamstrings are to balance the strength of the quads, and pretty often, as with everything in life, imbalances do occur. Imbalances can cause aches and pains to one or all of the muscles, and further damage if left unattended to. A variety of different factors can cause muscle imbalances. A runner’s stride style and length can create an imbalance, or a yogi’s posturing, all of which can be easily altered and corrected with further guidance.
A valuable point to remember is that a thorough warm-up of the muscles, before any exercise, is great way to prevent extra imbalances from occurring. This means to increase blood flow to muscles, which provides everything they need for activity. Just imagine the water in a hose-pipe on a winter’s day versus a sunny day, and bingo, that’s the idea of a warm up: it starts things flowing. Activities that warm the body include 5-10mins of easy walking, jogging or cycling. This can then be followed by gentle stretching towards the sky, then rotations of the hips in circles, with swinging of the arms and legs and a general ‘shake-out’.
A further three exercises from the yoga tool-kit that can help to lengthen and stretch the hamstrings include:
• Downward Facing Dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana.
• Head-to-knee Forward Bend, Janu Sirsasana.
• Seated Forward Bend, Paschimottanasana.
This runner’s hamstrings are currently under strict supervision, and are being treated to twice weekly strengthening sessions, and Paschimottanasana is a favourite, but how do you maintain your hamstring strength and length?
Do your hamstrings occasionally act up?
Or do you have a few tricks that work every time to keep you and your well balanced legs in the game?
Photo Justin Parmelee