Hamstring Stretches

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Exercise, Muscle Therapy and Health

 What To Do For Tight Hamstrings

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT –The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney


You are about to begin your run, or maybe you have just finished running. Your hamstring feels really tight. Maybe it is even painful. It seems obvious that you need to stretch it, but that could be exactly the wrong thing to do!

You Need To Release Muscle Fiber Knots Before You Do Hamstring Stretches!

hamstring exercisesStretching can be dangerous if the muscle is shortened by spasms.  A spasm (also called a muscle knot or trigger point) is like tying a knot in the center of the muscle.  And while each spasm may only involve a few fibers; there can be multiple spasms throughout the muscle.

Each spasm feels like a bump when you slide your fingers deeply down the length of the muscle. These spasms normally form over an extended period of time, often from repetitive strain on the muscle fibers.

Muscle Spasms Are At The Heart of the Stretching Misconception

It is important that you think of a spasm as a knot in the muscle fibers in order to understand why it can hurt to stretch.

A muscle begins on a stationary bone, crosses over a joint, and then inserts into a moveable bone.  When the muscle pulls on the moveable bone, the joint moves, however, if the muscle has a “knot” in it you can cause micro-tears to the fibers as you stretch.

As you stretch, knots within the muscle get tighter, this also causes the fibers on either side of the spasm to overstretch.  Overstretching can cause fiber tears either along the length of the muscle or where the fibers attach to the bone.  In most cases this can be avoided by simply applying pressure to the muscle to release the spasm before you stretch.

What Do Hamstrings Do?

Your hamstrings are responsible for bending your knee.  Every time you take a step, sit down, or climb stairs, you contract your hamstrings.

The only time your hamstrings aren’t contracting is when you are standing up straight.  This means they are frequently repetitively strained and contain multiple spasms along the muscle fibers.  These tight muscles put a strain on the back of your knee and at the origination point (the bottom of your posterior pelvis).

What Causes Tight Hamstrings?

The hamstrings are a bit unique from other muscles because while they can certainly have spasms in the fibers from repetitive strain injuries, they are also overstretched because of two major muscles that rotate the pelvis down in the front.

The two muscles that cause tight muscles to be overstretched are the iliopsoas (a muscle on the front side of the lumbar vertebrae) and the quadriceps (front of the thigh).

As these muscles get tight, primarily from sitting, they cause the pelvis to rotate forward and down.  As your pelvis rotates down in the front, it rotates up in the back.

Since your hamstrings originate on the bottom of the posterior pelvis, as it is moving up, the muscle fibers are already overstretched – so you don’t need to stretch them further.  In fact, if you stretch them they could potentially tear.

What Should You Do Before Your Hamstring Stretches?

relieve muscle knotsIt’s actually a 3-step process.  The key is to release tension in the front of the body before you can safely stretch the hamstrings.

First you need to release the tension in your quadriceps, this will take the tension off the front of the pelvis. You do this by rolling out your quadriceps muscles which releases trigger points (muscle spasms).

hamstring stretchesNext, stretch your iliopsoas. A low lunge is a great way to stretch the iliopsoas. This causes the pelvis to rotate up in the front and down in the back. As that happens tension is removed from the hamstrings.

tight hamstringsNow you can release the spasms in the hamstrings. You do this by sitting on a trigger point therapy ball, ironing out your hamstrings. Stay on specific points of pain; these are the knots in the muscle fibers you need to release. The direct pressure forces out the toxins, draws in blood and causes muscle fibers to lengthen.

Releasing muscle knots in your quadriceps, stretching your iliopsoas and releasing muscle knots in your hamstrings MUST be done before you can safely perform your hamstring stretches.

Do yourself a big favor and take these short steps; you will notice a difference!

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


About The Author

julie donnellyJulie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

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Comments (1)

  • Mary Riley


    As a yoga instructor, I find I naturally gravitate to the low lunge at the beginning of class. Now I know why! How very helpful this information is regarding hamstrings. Thanks kindly!


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Latest Article

High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.