I originally wrote this in response to a Reddit /r/running/ question about tight hamstrings, but I wanted to post this here for posterity in case it’s of use to anyone else dealing with hamstring tightness. I’ve also updated/edited this with more details.
I experienced a LOT of hamstring tightness going from running ~ 20 miles per week (mpw) with no workouts to 40+ mpw with a track workout and a tempo workout, and I still do most of these things now that I’m running 50-70 mpw. Obviously, I am not a doctor and your mileage may vary (bad pun intended), so if you experience pain beyond just normal soreness and tightness, you might have a hamstring strain. Depending on the severity, definitely take some time off and possibly consult your physician. I did physical therapy for my hamstring four or five years ago and still do a lot of the same strengthening exercises.
1. Hamstring wall stretch
This stretch sounds really dumb and friends have made fun of me for it, but I’ve been doing it for almost 15 years now since my high school cross country days and it always makes my hamstrings feel better the next day. I don’t think I’d still be running if I didn’t have this in my arsenal. I can’t remember if our team captain or coach first suggested it, but basically:
Lie on your back with your feet towards a wall, scoot your legs up the wall until your butt and hips touch the wall. Your body should be in a L-shape. Hold this for 5-10 minutes (maybe start with 5 minutes and work your way up to 10 minutes).
I never bothered to see if this was a stretch anyone else did until recently, but it turns out people do: https://www.doyouyoga.com/6-benefits-of-legs-up-the-wall-pose-48440/
Get a good pair of compression tights and walk around in them at night to improve blood flow. These cheap DR Skin ones work pretty well for me, although they may not last for very long (make sure not to throw them in the dryer). If you’re willing to invest in a nicer pair, the 2XU ones are nice.
3. Foam Roll, orb, or R8 massage roller
Borrow a R8 Deep Tissue massage roller or try one out at a local running store to see if you like it. I own the older version and mix that in with the Orb and a normal foam roller. I try to bring my orb with me whenever I travel and like to tell people that it makes most normal foam rollers feel like your grandma trying to massage you.
4. Ice or cooling gels
I don’t know if you’ve tried icing yet, but definitely recommend trying that, or just turn the shower faucet all the way to cold and target your hamstrings for a minute. I occasionally use Biofreeze, a topical cooling gel instead of icing before I go to bed, and my hamstrings definitely feel better the next day.
5. Hamstring and hip strengthening exercises
You probably don’t want to do these while your hamstrings are still really tight/sore, but if you’re worried about getting a hamstring injury, definitely find time to strengthen those muscles. I can’t remember where I first heard the term “prehab”, but I know I definitely prefer doing hamstring prehab to doing hamstring rehab. I like doing glute bridges and holding some stretches, but find whatever works for you. I usually avoid any super heavy weights, but over time, you can definitely work in light kettlebells and dumbbells as well.
Thanks for reading!