If you're a hockey player, you may be all too familiar with the problem of tight hamstrings, which don't loosen with stretching. Until you solve the underlying reason why your hamstrings are tight, you'll be wasting most of your mobility and stretching efforts.
Here are some fixes for chronic tightness in the hamstrings, followed by a sample program.
Fix your anterior pelvic tilt
Hockey is played in spinal extension, which often results in anterior pelvic tilt (APT). If your pelvis tilts forward, it will stretch the hamstrings at rest. Straighten up the APT, and your hamstrings will start to feel a lot looser.
A good way to illustrate this is to stretch a rubber band. This is the hamstring group at rest in APT. Will stretching that rubber band minimize the tension? No. You must address the cause of the tightness.
To reduce the effect of APT, you need more anterior core control. You can achieve this by training in anti-extension, or avoiding excessive rib cage flare and arching in the back.
Exercises like Deadbugs, Barbell Rollouts, and Leg Lowers can help you create a stronger core.
Activate your glutes
When you're moving properly, your glutes and the hamstrings work together to extend your hip. But if your hip flexors are tight, your glutes cannot do their job and your hamstrings become overworked, causing tightness.
To activate the glutes and shut off the hamstrings, incorporate Bridges, Side-Lying Leg Raises and Quadruped Hip Extensions into your workout.
Balance your inside and outside hamstrings
The hockey stride requires external rotation of the leg. The lateral or outside hamstring contributes to this movement, becoming short and overused, while the medial or inside hamstring becomes long and weak. The weakened inside hamstring can then become strained by the demands of the sport.
This is why hockey players grab their hamstrings when asked to run without the proper strengthening and training. They do not have the hamstring strength to handle running and changing direction.
Performing hip-dominant movements like Deadlifts, RDLs and Kettlebell Swings facing forward can help minimize the imbalance in the hamstrings.
Try this routine instead of stretching:
Wide Stance Bridge, 2x10
Assume a normal Glute Bridge position and walk your feet out a little wider. This will promote internal rotation of the femur while also activating the glutes.
Deadbug, 2x8 each side
The Deadbug allows you to train your core in anti-extension and helps you manage APT. Improving core control in this area reduces tension in the hamstrings. Check out NHL forward Jordan Eberle's Deadbug variation in the video player above.
Foot-Elevated Hip Flexor Mobility, 2x8 each side
Put your foot on a box while kneeling on the same leg. Push your hips forward and squeeze your glutes on that side. This allows your hip flexors to stretch and activate your glutes. Based on my experience, hockey players love this mobility drill.
Side-Lying Leg Raises, 2x8 each side
Lie on one side and turn your top toe toward the ground. Raise your leg to activate your glutes, which are important for hip stability and help control the joint.
Single-Leg Lowers, 2x8 each side
Lie on your back and raise both legs. Lower one at a time to about 1 inch off the ground. This is a perfect way to train the core, because it is once again anti-extension. Bonus: your top leg stays extended which works to improve hamstring length.
Do these five exercises in a circuit and repeat. Perform it in the morning, before practice or a game, or right before bed to relieve the hamstrings. Start by performing the circuit twice a day, then less frequently as your body adapts.
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