For a start, it’s not just runners, but us runners do have an acute awareness of when our hamstrings feel tight. And, it can be a strange and frustrating problem. It might just be a slight feeling of tightness or stiffness, or it can be more apparent and significantly effect our running action. In some this can considerably slow us down, make most runs uncomfortable and heighten the risks of further hamstring damage. The very strange thing though is that these same runners who complain of tight hamstrings might appear to be reasonably flexible in that area, they might also be quite disciplined with their flexibility. In essence, there seems to be a mismatch: they have good flexibility, good stretching regime and yet they and their running suffers from a very clear feeling of tight hamstrings. But are they tight, or are they overworked?
I too was similarly afflicted. The answer strangely came after a cycle ride. What should have been a routine 20 miler left my legs — in particular my hamstrings — so painful that I could barely walk when I got off my bike, and as for walking upstairs, well lets just say it was a good thing that the fridge is downstairs!
So it didn’t really stack up. Hamstrings being almost killed by an exercise that should give them a bit of a rest. Extending the hip, as in pressing down on cycle pedals, is largely a job for the glutes (those big muscles that form the buttocks). And that is the clue: if the hamstrings are doing all that pedaling, the glutes would appear to be out to lunch. Of course, the cycling (or more accurately post-cycling) experience was a very obvious indicator that something was definitely amiss in the glute/hamstring relationship. For many runners, the effect might be more subtle, and develop over a prolonged period. The result can be a runner who not only looks and feels uncomfortable, but one whose running has literally become a pain. Or it might just be a case of feeling that a full leg stride length is not being achieved. Unfortunately, with this type of problem very often we can be barking up the wrong tree when looking for solutions. It’s not about leg curls, or squats, or hamstring stretching, it is far more complex than that.
Muscle action and power is not all about strength and muscle development: you could have the buttocks of a bushman, but they’d be no good if those strong powerful glutes are not told what to do and when to do it. ‘Switching on the glutes’, has become a bit of a buzz-phrase, but it is very descriptive. The biggest, most powerful muscles will only be any good if they are switched on by the central nervous system (CNS).
But, as you might have guessed. It’s not very easy to get these glutes working properly again. There are some very specific steps to take. One of the best descriptions we’ve located is detailed in an excellent article by Brijesh Patel, MA, CSCS, titled Hamstring Dominance. Do remember though, the strategies detailed need to be put in place and acted upon.