If you are one of the millions of people who struggle with tight hamstrings, here is a simple exercise you can do to help lengthen those tight hamstrings.
Walk or jog backwards!
Tight hamstrings are very common for anyone who sits for extended periods of time. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting at a desk, car, plane or recliner. All that time sitting with your legs bent causes your hamstrings to become shorter and tighter.
I think everyone realizes that if we walked around most of the day with our arm bent it would be more difficult to straighten our arm, because our bicep muscle got used to that shortened length.
The same is true with regards to our hamstrings. All those hours with our knees bent causes our hamstrings to become shorter or tighter. This is a real problem, because tight hamstrings leave you vulnerable to not only muscle pulls, but also a leading cause of low back and hip pain.
The reason why walking backwards is such a good activity is that it helps restore muscle balance by lengthen not only your hamstrings, but also your Achilles tendon’s and psoas muscles, commonly called your hip flexors. Muscle imbalance is the primary cause of most aches and pains, especially when it comes to low and upper back pain, knee and elbow pain.
The simple action of stepping backwards will lengthen your hip flexors, which in my opinion is the most overlooked cause of low back pain. However, when your foot hits the ground and you contract your quadriceps (the muscles on the front side of your leg) to straighten your leg, it helps lengthen your hamstring.
One of the best ways to lengthen or stretch any muscle is to contract its opposing or antagonist muscle. If your bicep is tight or in a spasm – you straighten your arm and contract the tricep in order to relax and lengthen the bicep.
The quadriceps and hamstrings are opposing muscles. The quadriceps contracts to straighten your legs, which causes your hamstring to stretch. The exact opposite occurs when you bend your leg. The hamstring contracts and your quadriceps relaxes.
So if you are bothered with low back pain, tight hamstrings or tight hip flexors – walking or jogging backwards would be a great exercise to help restore muscle imbalance and alleviate those nagging joint pains. Give it a try I recommend to all my patients and clients to walk or jog backwards anywhere from 10-25% of the time they go forward. You'll be surprised how good of a pump you get on your thighs when you go backwards, especially if you jog back with any kind of speed.
If you have truly been struggling with low back pain or tight hamstrings you would be wise to seek the advise of someone who knows how to re-balance those muscles, specifically with trigger point therapy, spindle cell activation and golgi tendon release, besides the obvious therapeutic and neuromuscular exercises.