It’s one of the first stretches we learn as we begin our sporting careers. However, so many of us go through life doing it fundamentally wrong!
As a muscle group, the hamstring muscles of the posterior thigh are made up of Biceps Femoris (laterally), Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus (both found medially). These long muscles are ideally orientated to produce powerful actions in both flexing the knee and extending the hip. Particularly behind the knee, if you go feeling around gently with your fingers, you will soon come across the tough and cord-like hamstring tendons.
For many runners, it’s this area behind the knee that they try to feel the ‘stretch’ or fairly intense burning sensation when performing their hamstring stretch of choice. The classically flawed stretch is to elevate the stretching leg, hanging it with a straight knee off a raised platform, The runner then leans the torso into the stretch and then pulls the foot into dorsiflexion.
The thing to remember is that this ‘deep burn’ isn’t a hamstring stretch AT ALL! Instead, the intense sensation you’re feeling behind the knee (even into the calf) is tension being applied to the sciatic nerve.
Sciatic nerve mobilisation certainly has a place in keeping certain runners functioning pain-free, but there are more effective means of achieving this than a flawed hamstring stretch!
When teaching runners to feel a more effective ‘true’ hamstring stretch, I use the variation I demonstrate in the video below…
In performing this stretch, you should achieve a strong stretch in the muscle belly of the hamstring muscles, in the middle of the back of your thigh – rather than behind the knee, as you would most likely feel when the sciatic nerve is targeted.
Now Add Rotation….
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with this new stretch and perfected the technique, it’s worth considering the various ways in which we can bias the stretch towards the medial and lateral hamstrings, depending what structures we want to target specifically. In the video below, I demonstrate how simple hip rotation can ‘move the stretch around’…
Have a go at these variations of a hamstring stretch and feel how you can hit parts of these important running muscles that you perhaps couldn’t previously reach!
This combined focus on correct technique and multi-planar stretching is a key part of our popular Online Running Technique Course (click for limited 50% discount). It always amazes me how many bad habits we pick up as runners. The flawed ways in which we sometimes try to stretch is a great example of this!