The human body is truly amazing – yes, even yours! It’s made up of 206 bones, more than a dozen organs, a handful of interlinked systems, millions if not billions of cells, and over 600 muscles. And yet, despite all this complexity, most of the time, your body works like a well-oiled machine.
Until it doesn’t!
Like a car, just one part can bring the whole machine to a grinding halt.
Muscle injury, soreness, and pain are rarely life-threatening, but they can definitely put a crimp in your active lifestyle. And while it’s impossible to say that one muscle is more important than the others, hamstring issues can be especially debilitating.
Located on the back of your thigh, the hamstrings consist of three muscles – the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus – and their function is flexion of your knee and extension of your hip.
Almost every movement involves your hamstrings, including walking, running, lifting, climbing stairs, and just bending over to tie up your shoes, so it pays to keep your hammies in tip-top shape.
In this article, we’re going to teach you how to foam roll your hamstrings so that you keep them functioning correctly.
How to Foam Roll Your Hamstrings
The hamstrings are one of the easiest muscles to foam roll. Unlike some foam rolling exercises, you don’t need to do any tricky contortions to access the muscle you want to treat. You can even foam roll your hamstrings while you are watching TV.
How to do it:
- Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you.
- Place the foam roller under the back of your legs.
- With your weight on your hands, move your legs back and forth over the roller, from your glutes to the back of your knees.
- Continue for 60 seconds or more, focusing your attention on any tight spots you encounter.
Alternatively, and for a deeper effect, cross one leg over the other and roll just one hamstring at a time.
How Long and How Often Should I Roll My Hamstrings?
There are no hard and fast rules about how long or how often you should foam roll your hamstrings. It really depends on how hard you exercise, how tight your hamstrings are, and your tolerance to deep tissue massage.
In terms of duration, 30 to 60 seconds is a good place to start. While you could roll your hammies for longer, you’ll probably make them sore if you do. Increase the duration gradually as you become more accustomed to this type of treatment.
Regarding frequency, you can foam roll your hamstrings every day if you wish, and even a couple of times a day. But, like duration, you should increase frequency gradually. Start off using your foam roller every other day and increase from there.
A little post-rolling tenderness is normal, but if your muscles feel very sore, you have probably overdone it and would benefit from a break.
For most people, 1-2 minutes every other day should be enough to keep your hamstrings healthy.
When to Foam Roll Your Hamstrings
You can foam roll your hamstrings almost anytime, but especially beneficial times include:
- After a long period spent sitting, such as after driving or working at your desk
- After exercising as part of your cool down
- Before intense lower body workouts, such as sprinting or weightlifting
- Before going to bed
- As part of a pre-hab or rehab workout
- Any time you need to relax or you feel your hamstrings are tightening up
When NOT to Foam Roll
Foam rolling is a form of massage. That means it’s a very safe and natural thing to do to your muscles. There are very few contraindications to massage, which means there are very few contraindications to foam rolling.
However, you should not foam your hamstrings, or any other muscle, if or when:
- You have an acute injury, just as a torn muscle. Foam rolling a damaged muscle can make it worse.
- You have severe post-exercise muscle soreness. Rolling a tender muscle is VERY painful. You won’t be able to relax, and that will make foam rolling less effective, if not all-but pointless.
- You have skin wounds, such as abrasions or cuts. Foam rolling could make the damage worse and even cause infection.
- You are badly bruised. Bruising can be made worse by foam rolling.
- You have a history of deep vein thrombosis. A DVT is a clot that forms in the blood vessels that supply the heart. Foam rolling could cause the clot to move, traveling to the heart or brain, leading to a serious medical emergency or death.
- You are cold. You’ll find foam rolling your hamstrings much more comfortable and effective if your muscles are warm and pliable.
Does Foam Rolling Help Tight Hamstrings?
Tight hamstrings can cause a host of problems. They can be a source of pain, affect your posture, and even cause back issues. Long periods spent sitting mean that a lot of people have tight hamstrings.
Stretching will help, but, in some cases, it won’t be enough.
Muscles are made of rows of muscle fibers. These fibers can become gummed together so that movement becomes restricted. We call these gummed up areas adhesions, and they are like knots in your muscles.
Foam rolling helps free up your muscle fibers and eliminate any knots, so normal function is restored. Once the adhesions are gone, your stretches will be more effective.
As well as affecting your muscles, foam rolling also frees up your fascia, which is a layer of connective tissue that surrounds, separates, and connects your muscles. Adhesions affect your fascia as well as the underlying muscle fibers.
So, while foam rolling alone won’t fix your tight hamstrings, it will make your stretches more effective. Foam rolling plus stretching is like 2+2=5!
Professional athletes, A-list celebrities, and wealthy health nuts keep their bodies in perfect shape with massages. Regular massages help improve the health and condition of the entire neuromuscular system.
For the rest of us, there is foam rolling!
A good foam rolling session is every bit as effective as a massage but much more accessible. You can foam roll at home or at the gym, and you can buy a foam roller for less than a single session with a massage therapist.
If tight, sore hamstrings are your Achilles’ heel, there is no need to suffer in silence. Foam rolling your hamstrings, combined with regular stretching, can help alleviate muscle tightness and restore normal function. Whether you are an athlete or just want to tie your shoes without impediment, foam rolling will help.