How to massage hamstrings – does foam rolling work?

hamstring massage

For rolling away muscle tightness in your quads, the foam roller is a tried and tested tool, but when it comes to the hamstrings, the foam roller is less effective. Let’s take look at why this is, and what we can do to improve the tissue quality of our hamstrings in place of foam rolling.


Foam rolling the hamstrings


Foam rollers work well for soft tissue massage on the fronts of our legs because our arms can reach out in front of us. This means that in a lying position, your arms allow you to prop your bodyweight above the roller and bear down into it, putting massage pressure into our quads. When it comes to our hamstrings, it is not possible to divert so much of our bodyweight into the foam. People try putting themselves in a seated position and rocking their hamstrings over the foam, but this is a mechanically awkward position which is tiring and is not particularly effective in terms of putting an adequate amount of pressure into the target muscles. Raising yourself off the floor, putting the roller onto a bench and foam rolling one hamstring at a time is a bit better, but is still a touch awkward and difficult to use for the right results.



Using a bar to massage the hamstrings


There is a solution to this problem but it needs to used very carefully: massage your hamstrings using a barbell propped up by the spotting bars of a power rack. You need to set the spotting bars at a height that, with the bar laid across them, puts the bar at a height just below your groin. Facing the bar, straddle one leg over the bar, bent up in front of you, with your hamstrings gently sinking into the bar and the foot floating down from a bent leg. Your other leg will be standing on the ground and your hands can be used to roll the bar and reposition yourself during rolling. You can then gently roll your hamstrings into the bar, cautiously easing only as much of your leg’s weight into the bar as is needed to get a mild degree of massage pressure.


It is important that the barbell is only used in this one-leg-at-a-time fashion, as by sitting your whole bodyweight into the bar, when massaging two legs at a time, you will apply too much pressure into the hamstrings and end up causing yourself more harm than good. As the hamstrings are more tendinous than muscles like your quads and glutes, you need to take more care when you massage them, so err on the side of caution, applying very light massage pressure in your first few sessions to assess what you can tolerate before considering applying additional pressure over time.


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