Tight Hamstrings & Cycling

By Nick Clayton

Many cyclists’ suffer from tight hamstrings, even though they stretch frequently. What’s the deal? Tight hamstrings are commonly a result of “gluteal amnesia.” In essence, the glutes forget how to contract, causing the hamstrings and calves to overwork. This is especially relevant for individuals who bike frequently then sit for long periods.

Think of the body as a puppet controlled by strings. If one or more of the strings get out of balance the whole puppet suffers. The body is the same. Muscles in the front of the body, especially the hip flexors, get tight and cause the muscles in the back of the body, especially the glutes, to become weak. Think about it — if you have tight hamstrings when was the last time your butt was sore (aside from sitting in the saddle for 4 hours). In addition, I’d be willing to bet that 1 out of 2 cyclists with tight hamstrings have low back pain and headaches. For the purpose of this article, the reason is too lengthy. Here is what you can do to alleviate the tightness, which reduces your performance (endurance, pain, and power).

Here is one really quick test. Stand up tall. Raise your left leg so that your left knee is above your hip, bending your knee. Hold for 10 seconds. Do you feel your right glute working along with your left hip flexor (the muscle dead center in the front of your left hip), or do you feel the burn in the outside of your left hip (TFL, or tensor fascia latae)? If you feel anything other than I described (right glute, left hip flexor) your body is compensating for a weakness created by one or more of the following.

Causes of tight hamstrings

- Increasing volume or intensity too much in a short time period
- Weak glutes and deep abs and tight or weak hip flexors
- Poor choice of exercises (too many situps and crunches these exercise do not work your “deep” abs)

Results

- Low back pain and stiffness
- Overuse injuries in the foot, calf, and knee
- Decreased motivation to run

Prevention

- Stretch consistently; perform active stretches before a workout and static stretches after a workout. Get in the habit of stretching and foam rolling 10 minutes before bed every night. Do not focus on stretching the hamstrings.

- Stretch your hip flexors with proper technique. To stretch your hip flexors, assume a lunge position. Tighten your abs (lightly squeeze your belly button) and squeeze the glute on your back leg; drop your hips straight down until you feel a gentle stretch in front of the hip of the back leg. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times.

Commit to core stability training 2-3 times per week that includes planks, and side planks. Reduce any ab machines — they focus on the more superficial muscles which compensate for the deep stabilizing muscles.

Find a good deep tissue massage therapist and sports medicine professional (I hear TMI is really good, wink-wink).

Nick is the Director of Performance at TMI Sports Performance in Arlington and is an avid off-road triathlete. Contact him with your injury prevention and run specific strength training questions at nick.clayton@tmisportsperformance.com

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