Hamstrings and athletic function
Speical to the Appeal
Do you know where your hamstring muscles are? Unless you jog or do explosive leaps and sprints in sports or ballet, you seldom give them much thought. But the first time you pull a hamstring muscle it will all come back to you.
They’re those tight leg muscles in the back of your thighs, the muscles that keep you from touching your toes. When you stand and bend your knee back at a right angle, you contract the hamstring muscle. Each time you do that, you strengthen and shorten it. Jogging, running, walking continually shorten the hamstring muscle.
Bend over and try to touch your toes. If you can’t touch your toes with your legs straight, try bending your legs and then straightening them while you hang on to your toes. Either way, you have an idea just how tight those hamstring muscles can be.
About 70 percent of hamstring strains and pulls are in the main body of the muscle itself. They come in three major levels of injury: Mild strain that can heal in a few as three days with proper treatment, moderate strain with soft-tissue swelling, and pain that takes from seven to ten days to heal, and the severe hamstring strain that requires at least three weeks to heal.
Given the fact that any sports-minded individual requires the use of hamstring muscles for exercise movement, a three-week loss can be devastating.
How does a hamstring strain occur? It can happen in athletes who have a higher ratio of strength in the quadriceps. For instance, a runner can have a strength ratio in the quadriceps muscles of 1 1/2 times stronger than the hamstrings.
When the quadriceps contract, it requires the hamstring to stretch to compensate. At that point, the hamstring can be in overload if it isn’t stretched adequately before the exercise begins, and a tear or strain can occur.
Decide first if you are one of those individuals with naturally tight hamstring muscles, then appraise your sport for the type of movements that require sprinting and explosive movements. Then spend a whole lot of time stretching those hamstrings before you even consider exercise.
There are quite a few good stretching moves for tight hamstrings, but don’t forget to compensate with the opposite moves for the quadriceps to keep your muscles in safe balance. Place your leg up on a table and try to touch your toes. Do a slow stretch and hold for three minutes. You can also do a hurdle stretch on the floor, or lie back and pull one leg up over your head.
All of these moves work, but the time spent on the stretching warm-up depends on muscle condition.
• Jerry Vance is the owner of Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through the Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Carson City Senior Citizens Center.