Daily Mobility Exercises by Dr. Kelly Starrett Forums General Constantly Tight Hamstrings…..PLEASE HELP

Viewing 15 reply threads
  • Author
    • #70971
      AvatarStephen Bilbo

      Hi everyone,

      Need some help here, as I have been plagued by consistently tight hamstrings for about 6 months now.  Any movement which requires lifting a load (light) from the ground results in very tight and tender hamstrings.  Even a session of mobility WOD’s that require stretching the hamstrings will result in soreness the following day.  I’ve restrained from any kind of heavy pull from the ground for the last 10 weeks, and I’m still plagued by this problem.  Heavy deadlifts and GHD back extensions are out of the question…..I cant go near either right now. At first, I thought I had a grade 2 or grade 3 strain, but I feel like there is something else going on here.  Anyone else experiencing this?  Please Help?
    • #74726
    • #74727
      AvatarStephen Bilbo

      Yes..I have been looking up/down stream especially with my hips and lower back. I’ve been doing a lot of mobility work on these two areas for about a year now.

      I was doing something for my hammies every day (stretching, lacrosse balls, bands) until I decided to take a few weeks to let them heal completely….tried to do a good mobility WOD to target the hamstrings yesterday, and they are screaming at me today…very tight.
      I was not injured.
      I think my hydration is pretty good…..I probably drink to much caffeine.
    • #74731
      AvatarGeorge McLaney

      Matthew, about the best thing for me is to get the lacrosse ball or MWOD Gemini and place it between my hamstring area and a hard wooden chair. Then pressure wave across it, starting at the top (high hamstring / lower glutes, all the way down toward the back of the knee). Then start again at the top, this time extending the leg. Then switch legs. If I’m working at a coffee shop I’ll do this for up to an hour total. Yes, that sounds like a lot, but as Kelly says about soft tissue work, there is no upper time limit when you’re going for change. Also, that’s about the only time I sit. As a writer it’s tempting to be chair bound but using a standing desk has done wonders for my hamstrings, hips and lower back. Good luck!

    • #74732
      AvatarNathan Richer

      hey Matthew, sounds like you got the mobility side covered. If none of that seems to be working, you might consider these:

      1.  The hams can be involved in stabilization of the pelvis if other muscles are not working like the glutes, or if you have incorrect posture, or similar.  If you become dependent on the hams to stabilize your pelvis, then they can get SUPER tight and overworked and especially under high load or loads over time/distance.  I’d have to look at your posture and also whether you are bracing with your ab and back muscles or are generating intrabdominal pressure to help counteract the need for the hams to be so involved.
      2. another thing you could look at is that something on the other side of the hams is not activating in those movement patterns to turn the hams off.  in this case, it could be any one of the hip flexors.  so for say KB swings, if you do not pull yourself down strongly with the hip flexors, then you could cause the hams to never get the signal to shut off. over time they will just stay tight and then you’ll feel them after the workout.  for this, you would practice “clamshelling” your body down against your top of quads and pulling down strongly with your hip flexors every time you have a movement that requires this.  So pull yourself down into loading up for the deadlift for example, or pulling yourself down when the KB swing goes between your legs instead of being lazy and relaxing yourself down.
      if this is the case, then the classic posterior chain floss with banded distraction to the rear, and doing it on the floor could be something that will help a lot especially if you flex the quad strongly like Kstarr says.
      food for thought.

    • #74738
      AvatarStephen Bilbo


      thanks for the feedback….lots of good info here.
      After doing further research, I think I may be suffering from Hamstring Tendonitis?  Does this sound like a possibility to anyone else?  Everything I’ve read online suggest that only endurance runners are primarily affected with this, which makes me skeptical because I rarely run and if I do, its even rarer that I would run more than 400-800 meters at a time.  Not sure how else to explain the chronic stiffness in the hammies.  I’m also under the impression that hamstring tendonitis pain is generally right above the knee or right below the butt.  My stiffness is right in the belly of my hamstrings.
    • #74739
      Avatar[email protected]

      To explain the chronic stiffness David suggests that you are relying on your hamstrings more then your glutes and quads.  

      For me, I think I am quad dominate so my quads are always stiff because they hold the load the most.  Most likely your hamstrings are stiff because they take on the most load.  The goal is to get everything firing to support the weight evenly.
      The best way for you to fix this is to isolate the weak muscles and get them stronger as well as for your brain to activate those weak areas.  Your brain doesn’t know what to activate, therefore, doesn’t turn on the location.  So you need to consciously look at the shapes/patterns you make with the exercises (Squats, deadlifts etc). 
    • #74742
      AvatarNathan Richer

      Hey Dan, to clarify what i meant – I didn’t mean that he was relying on his hamstrings more. Instead, I meant that it is possible that there is dysfunction in the co-activation of opposing muscle groups. In this case, the hams are turned on so much not because they are used the most, it’s because there is no co-activation on the opposing muscle group to tell them to shut off.  

      Balance is needed on all our opposing muscle groups for proper function.  
      Sometimes doing all the usual mobilitywod stuff fixes this. But sometimes it does not. I would say typical mobilitywod focuses on fixing the direct physical issue which sometimes fixes the neurological. but sometimes fixing just the physical still doesn’t fix the neurological. then we have to do something different. also to be clear, like the banded distraction classic posterior chain floss on the ground, many mobs do involve the neurological but many are focused more on the physical aspects like ball smashing.
    • #74743
      Avatar[email protected]

      Gotcha — 

    • #74748
      AvatarNathan Richer

      ooo some good classic hamstring flossing in the latest dailyRx – awesome stuff:

    • #74751
      AvatarKatie Hemphill

      Hey Matthew,

      In regards to your hamstring tendinitis theory, if you’re not experiencing symptoms at the sites of the tendons themselves, then I’d say probably not. However, that would be a potential condition that could develop as a result of your chronic stiffness if you were to continue training hard without resolving it.
      I’m curious about your execution of the hamstring mobility stuff you’ve been doing. Just to rule out the obvious, are you certain you’re not giving too rough of a beat-down when you’re working on them? More and harder is not always better, though sometimes it’s hard to glean that from the Mobility Wod (Kelly has always catered strongly to his original CrossFit audience, who respond well to promises of pain and intensity; he presents mobbing to them like a dare). Consistently applying appropriate doses over days, weeks, or months might yield the best results.
      It should also be taken into account that, when your tissues are really messed up and stiff, they can get pretty sore the next day from being worked on. However, I would be conservative when applying mobility work to muscles recovering from soreness. A little mobility work is great for recovery, but if you’re super sore and beat up a hard mobility session might just make the microdamage linger.
      As others have said, an issue as stubborn as this is unlikely to be JUST a mobility problem, and probably has some motor control issues associated with it. If you’re able to post some footage of yourself doing some squats / deadlifts, that would be very useful.
      In the meantime, here is something I would suggest you try. Retaining the new range of motion you achieve from an acute dose of mobility work is contingent on you integrating that new range of motion in your movement, teaching your body to accept the new range on a neuromuscular level and absorb it into your motor pattern. Assuming your motor patterns are decent (before we see otherwise), try mobilizing your hamstrings and follow with Romanian deadlifts (with the empty bar for now), being very mindful of the downward phase of the movement and of when you reach the end of your range. Find hamstring tension at the bottom, acknowledge it for a moment, and then come back up. Repeat for a handful of reps, then return to mobilizing.
      Given that you’ve been experiencing a lot of soreness and stiffness following hamstring-involved activities, be conservative at first, and gauge the appropriateness of this approach by how it affects you over a couple days. Did you improve your range of motion? Did you avoid getting super frickin’ sore?
      Good luck, and keep us posted! The more information and footage you can provide, the more accurate we can be.
    • #74756

      Another thing to consider is it takes 7 months to cycle through and have new soft tissue.
      It can take time.
      Have you addressed glutes at all?
      Movement patterns and technique needs to be looked at with new ranges and freeing up other restrictions.

    • #74812
      AvatarStephen Bilbo


      I may have been coming on to strong with hamstring mobility WOD’s at first, but I have really backed off and performed in moderation over the last couple of months.  I’m going to try and post some footage of my airsquat, squat w/ a load, and deadlift soon.
      I havent been doing nearly as much for the glutes as I have for the hamstrings, hips, and lower back.  Any suggestions?
    • #74813

      Have you had someone smash your hamstrings?
      This can have a big impact.

      Some hamstring issues can originate with the glutes
      Pro Episode # 45 – Pro user Request Friday: The Dread Piriformis Syndrome (Like the Dread Pirate Roberts…but Different)
      Athlete’s ROM: Full Posterior Chain- Are You Dysnormal?

      You can break up the time you spend on mobility into shorter better quality time spent.
      Are you seeing improvements with what you are doing?

    • #76199
      AvatarChris McLaughlin

      Hi Matthew,

      I realise this post is a bit old now and hopefully your issue has resolved; however, if it hasn’t or if anyone else is having this problem I hope the following helps.

      “Need some help here, as I have been plagued by consistently tight hamstrings for about 6 months now. Any movement which requires lifting a load (light) from the ground results in very tight and tender hamstrings. Even a session of mobility WOD’s that require stretching the hamstrings will result in soreness the following day. I’ve restrained from any kind of heavy pull from the ground for the last 10 weeks, and I’m still plagued by this problem. Heavy deadlifts and GHD back extensions are out of the question…..I cant go near either right now. At first, I thought I had a grade 2 or grade 3 strain, but I feel like there is something else going on here. Anyone else experiencing this? Please Help?”

      First off, I’d recommend going to see a good physiotherapist (physical therapist). That being said it does not sound like tendinitis (tendinopathy). If you’re constantly stretching a muscle and getting nowhere than flexibility of that muscle is not the issue.

      If we use your example of deadlifts, there are 3 main muscles you use to power this lift (as well as engaging your core). These are your gluts (gluteus maximus), hamstrings, and erector spinae (back muscles). Each of these helps lift you up from a bent position (think performing a deadlift). Your erectors should be contracting isometrically to stabilise your spine, while your glut max and hamstrings should be contracting concentrically (shortening against the load). What happens when one of these muscles shuts off is that the load gets transferred to the other 2. What is probably happening is that your gluts have shut off and the load is being passed onto your hamstrings and erectors to try to straighten you out or extend your hip. So now when you go to lift x amount of weight, instead of your gluts, hammies and erectors carrying the load it’s now only your hammies and erectors – thus they get overworked, sore and chronically tight.

      It doesn’t matter how much you stretch or trigger point them, until you get your gluts activating properly again they’ll just be tight the next day. If it’s bad enough you may even experience pain/soreness/tightness after ligther activities such as running, walking, stairs, hiking etc as your gluts are needed to carry out these movements as well.

      So why have your gluts (particularly gluteus maximus) shut off? It’s likely because you’re in anterior pelvic tilt. Signs of anterior pelvic tilt are an excessive forward curve through your lower back and your butt and/or stomach being more prominent (they stick out). When your pelvis (hips) are tilted anteriorly (forward) this puts gluteus maximus on stretch. When you put a muscle on stretch it tends to shut off. It’s not a strength issue, it’s an activation issue. You can’t activate the muscle because it’s constantly on stretch.

      So what’s causing your anterior pelvic tilt (APT)? A muscle imbalance can occur between the muscles that posteriorly (back) tilt vs anteriorly (forward) tilt your pelvis – this can be a strength issue or a tightness issue.

      Muscles that anteriorly tilt the pelvis
      -rectus femoris (one of the quadriceps muscles)
      -erector spinae

      Muscles that posteriorly tilt the pelvis
      -rectus abdominus (“6 pack”)
      -external obliques (another core muscle)
      -gluteus maximus

      So if the muscles that anteriorly tilt the pelvis are much stronger than the ones that posteriorly tilt your pelvis than this will pull you into APT, ultimately shutting off your gluteus maximus, overworking your hamstrings and contributing to your hamstring pain. Alternatively, it may not be a strength issue but a tightness issue. If your APT muscles are tight, they will also pull you into APT.

      Correcting your APT. If the muscles that anteriorly tilt your pelvis forward are tight than you’re going to want to stretch them. If the muscles that posteriorly tilt your pelvis are weak than you’re going to want to strengthen/activate them. Some great activation exercises for glutes are clam shells, donkey kicks, bridges and for your rectus abdominus and external obliques these include reverse crunches, dead bugs, bug legs, supine leg lifts. Keep in mind that you can do these for days but unless you’re employing correct form you won’t get anywhere. With your clam shells DO NOT let your hips roll back. With your external oblique/rectus abdominus exercises, DO NOT arch your lower back. Keep your lower back flat against the floor – remember we’re trying to correct your APT, not make it worse. If you get to a rep and you can’t hold your back flat against the floor then you need to stop – we dont want to train the muscles in APT.

      Once your confident with these and you can correctly activate the muscles, you’ve built the strength and endurance up then you can gradually return to deadlifting. You will also have to stretch out any remaining tightness through your hamstrings and other areas but you should find any flexibility improvements you make will be there the next day. Remember when you’re deadlifting not to round your back (everyone knows this) but also not to excessively straighten your back out (anteriorly tilt your pelvis) as this will shut your gluts off. Also, if you can’t hold your core tight (rectus abdominus and external oblique) than your pelvis will go into APT after a few reps/sets and you’ll be on the path back to square one. So make sure you can feel your butt squeezing as you lift and make sure your tightening your core. A good cue for the core is to imagine a line from your belly button to your sternum/ribs. Your core should be tight enough that from the bottom of your lift to the top this line shouldn’t get any longer. Also, dont over extend at the top as your encouraging APT.

      I know this is a bit long and complicated for some but I hope it makes sense and helps you solve your problem.


    • #76565
      AvatarBrian Keller


        Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.  I tore (presumably) my left hamstring about 6 months ago and it’s still not 100%.  As soon as i start to increase my mileage beyond a certain point, it begins to get tight again.  I am changing my training / recovery to incorporate some of your tips.  I way past ready to be recovered and get back to having a healthy hamstring.
Viewing 15 reply threads
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.