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It’s Not Your Hamstrings Fault!

This kinda follows on from the past post on Overhead Pressing and Back pain (here).

From the feedback I’ve been getting it seems more of you than I thought suffered from back pain while overhead lifting. Which I suppose is why Personal trainers get taught that silly split stance for all overhead work and every else simply sits down to lift things overhead.

Today I’m going to talk about another problem. One that I’ve personally struggled with on and off for years and seems to be in vogue with several of my current clients.

The problem is tight hamstrings.

Sometimes accompanied by back and/or knee pain as a side.

Every man and his dog can be seen constantly stretching their hamstrings, yet strangely, they never get any more flexible. Some simply give up and accept their fate telling the world that stretching doesn’t work. Others stretch and stretch until the muscle end up like old knicker elastic and gets injured.

Hamstrings, Knicker Elastic and Ironing. Jamie Eason, we salute you.

But are your hammies really the problem?

Very often the answer is no. The hammies are tight because they are ALREADY being stretched!

How so?

Before I continue, take a second to look down at you hips. I’m going top assume you’re sitting down and your leg is sticking out at 90 or so degrees to the front. A normal sitting position, agreed? Good. I’ll also assume that you’ve spent a good portion of your day in this position, say on your commute, at work and most likely in the evening in front of the goggle box. Maybe you spent an hour or two training, but most likely the majority of the day was spent in hip flexion.

This will shorten the muscles on the front of the hip pulling into whats known as Anterior Tilt.

Many common sports will also lean towards an anterior tilt. Many field sports athletes become very Quad Dominant, as do runners and cyclists. Martial Artists generally stretch a lot but are also at risk of the tilt. Why? Look at the image above and see the arrow marked “Rectus Femoris” this along with the bit above marked Illiopsoas are the culprits. If you sit for extended periods of time, or become quad dominant through your sport then the chances are these muscle are becoming tighter and shorter.

Look at the arrows denoting the rotation of the pelvis, then have a look at this next image:

When the pelvis is anteriorly rotated, the back side of it lifts up. In the above image we can see the hamstrings attach to the back of the pelvis, so when the pelvis tilts anteriorly, guess what? Yup, we’re getting a stretch on our poor hammies.

And there’s more….

Ever hear of reciprocal inhibition?

It’s when a muscle on one side of a joint tells the muscle on the other side to switch of so that the joint can be moved. Our illiopsoas & rectus femoris are both hip flexors. Our glutes & hammies are both hip extensors. Mostly the glutes.

So when the hip flexors are tight, what do you think happens to the extensors? Yup, they become reciprocally inhibited. In other words, the hip flexor tells the glutes to turn off. If the glutes are offline, how do we extend our leg? You got it, with our already pre-stretched hamstrings.

All well and good, but what do we do about it?

Stretch the hip flexors and activate the glutes.  Simples!


If you do this, your hamstrings will feel instantly loser and you may find the knee/back pain dissipate. In fact if you combine the following drills with the drills from the previous post on Back Pain & Overhead Pressing, there’s a good chance you’ll eliminate an array of issues through your body.

Here’s a great drill from mobility expert Tom Furman (

I’ve tried many drills but this one from Tom is a cracker. In his “Activate” manual (which you should consider getting) he offers a variation using a band that cuts down the time necessary.

I’d also recommend taking a leaf from the Yin Yoga book. Our own Yoga instructor  Anne Dempsey taught me a Yin sequence for the hips recently and has me holding each stretch for up to 3 minutes. Now when I say stretch, your going gently into it and only increasing the range of motion gently. Try a kneeling hip flexor stretch for 3 min per side and feel the difference! This clip shows both the hip flexor stretch and the quad stretch:

Do them after training as you cool down. Do them at home in front of the TV Do them.

Also add in some glute activation work such as bridges, supermans, cross band walks (all detailed in this post) as well as some posterior chain strength work, be that deadlifting, glute bridges, hip thrusts or kettlebell work.

Just remember, just because you feel tight in the hammies, it’s not always the hammies fault.



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