Your hamstrings are comprised of three main muscles that run from your gluteus maximus to your knees: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. These muscles are what allow you to bend your knees - to jump high and run fast. A sprinter needs their hamstrings to shift the load of movement from their knees to their hips, and to help them absorb the shock of movements. You hamstring not only allows you to walk functionally, but to do so with speed, agility, and power. Men and women, especially bodybuilders, also like to have toned hamstring muscles for attractive legs, or to show off their fitness.
Loose Hamstrings are Healthy Hamstrings
Hamstring flexibility can contribute to your overall health. With strong, loose hamstring muscles you can help support numerous other muscle groups in your body. Toe touches help relieve lower back pain and keep your hamstrings loose, and adding in other stretches as well makes them more flexible so you are less likely to get a pulled hamstring. Tennis players especially can benefit from flexible hamstrings with all of that time spent bending their knees on court. Yoga poses like downward facing dog are great for stretching those muscle groups and improving elasticity. Hamstring injuries are feared among athletes because they can keep you from working at full strength for long periods of time, and are quite painful. Runners especially tend to have strong quads but ignore their other muscle group. Runners, swimmers, and cyclists depend on stretching for flexibility, plus they can give any athlete a competitive advantage.
Your hamstrings are easier to injure because they cover both your knee and hip joints. When the muscles become stretched beyond their limit, they can tear as you exercise. That is why it is important to increase your limits with regular stretching to improve your range and reduce stiffness. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that athletes of football, soccer, tennis, basketball, and running have a daily routine of exercises to keep them lithe. With a consistent routine, you also fight the symptoms of sciatica. Tight hamstrings can contribute to sciatica, which shows itself in leg pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling along your sciatic nerve behind the leg.
The Body Benefits
When you exercise your hamstrings you also improve your posture and help yourself prevent leg injuries. Strong hamstrings work to keep your hips stable so your spine does not become misaligned. Weak hamstrings tug your hips forward and suddenly your posture is out of wack, rounding your shoulders and lower back arches. This strain can lead to back strain if you do not stretch your hamstrings. And while your quads are usually more powerful than your hamstring, if the hamstring becomes too weak it can make you open to ligament tears and other injuries in addition to affecting your ability to jump, land, run, or alter direction. Leading a sedentary lifestyle means you may have tightened hamstrings which can limit your movement so it is hard to rise out of a chair or climb up the stairs. Try implementing stretches, squats, lunges, and leg curls into your exercise routine to benefit your hamstring muscle groups.