Hamstring stretches

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you…

  • suffer from tight hamstrings?
  • struggle with touching your toes?
  • have lower back pain?

Well… I’ve got some hamstring stretches that might just help you!

I


What to expect in this article:

  • A complete list of all of the hamstring stretches that you will ever need to know.
  • How to stretch specific areas
  • Pictures + Instructions included
  • Strengthening exercises that actually improve your flexibility.
  • What to do if these exercise aren’t working for you.

“Do you have tight hamstrings?”

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Bring your hip to 90 degrees flexion.
    • (Hold the back of the knee)
  • Whilst keeping your toes pointed, try to straighten your leg as much as possible.
  • Keep the other leg flat on the ground to maintain an arch in your lower back.
  • Results:
    • If you can not straighten your knee, then you have tight hamstrings.

 

What causes tight hamstrings?

If I were to pick the most common cause that I see in my patients, it would definitely have to be…

Sitting (… for way too long!)

Most of us will tend to sit a slouched state which places the pelvis in a posterior pelvic tilt.

This in turn will place the hamstrings in the shortened position that will lead to tight(er) hamstrings.

 

Why should you stretch your hamstrings?

a) Leads to postural issues

As mentioned above, tight hamstrings can pull your pelvis into a posterior tilt.

This is where the pelvis rotates backwards and can lead to all kinds of issues with your posture.

Which leads to the…

 

b) Inability to maintain a neutral spine

Since the pelvis is in a sub-optimal position, it will be very difficult for the lower back to achieve neutral spine.

This can lead to…

 

c) Back pain


Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

People with tight hamstrings will tend to bend their lower back particularly during activities such as sitting, bending forwards and lifting from floor (… which we all do on a daily basis).

This can increase the result in injuries such as disc bulges, muscular strains, joint damage and nerve issues.

 

d) Recurring hamstring strains

Tight muscles will tend to strain more easily, more severely and more frequently!

 

Types of postures with tight hamstrings:


Hamstring stretches: Say goodbye to your tight hamstrings

Hamstring anatomy:

The hamstring muscle group mainly consists of 3 different individual muscles:

  • Semi-tendonous
  • Semi-membranous
  • Biceps femoris
  • (Adductor magnus/Short head biceps)

As the hamstring muscle group contains more than just 1 muscle, I have divided the hamstring stretches by location of stretch.

Make sure you are stretching all of the hamstring muscle group!

 


Note: It is important to make sure that you do not stretch into pain. The following hamstring stretches are designed to be gentle and pain-free.


 

1. Warm up

STOP!… Do this before you start these stretches!

It is always a good idea to warm up before you start any hamstring stretches. (Last thing you want is a strain!)

This can involve: (but not limited to)

  • Standing leg curls
  • Walking lunges
  • Bridges

2. Dynamic hamstring stretches

The following hamstring stretches involve moving the muscle through its range of motion.

a) Leg swing

Instructions:

  • Whilst in the standing position, swing your leg forwards/backwards.
  • Swing as far forward as you comfortably can.
    • Keep your swinging leg straight.
    • Aim to feel a gentle stretch sensation in your hamstrings.
  • Perform 20 repetitions per side.
  • You may hold onto a stationary object to help maintain your balance.

3. Hamstring stretches (by location)


READ THIS:

  • Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
  • Aim to feel the stretch in the specific region of the hamstring.
  • Keep your toes pointed to reduce nerve tension.
  • You do NOT have to do all of them!

To get the best stretch:

  • Keep your pelvis tilted forwards AND lower back straight.

Upper:


Keep your leg slightly BENT.


 

a) Standing

stretches for the hamstring

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, place a bent knee on a block in front of you.
  • Bend forward by hinging at the hips.
  • Remember to keep your back straight!

 

b) Lying down (supine)

Instructions:

  • Lie on your back.
  • Create a pronounced arch your lower back by tilting your pelvis forwards.
  • Whilst maintaining the arch, grab the back of one knee and pull it towards your chest.
  • Straighten this leg as much as you can.
  • Keep your foot pointed.

 

Lower:


Keep your leg STRAIGHT.


 

a) Standing

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, place your straightened leg in front of you on a block.
  • Keep your foot pointed.
  • Bend forward by hinging at the hips.
  • Keep your back straight.

 

b) Seated

Instructions:

  • Sit on the edge of a chair.
  • Place a straightened knee in front of you.
    • You can comfortably bend the other knee.
  • Bend forward by hinging at the hips.
  • Keep your toes pointed forward.

 

c) Lying down (supine)

Instructions:

  • Lie on your back.
  • Wrap a strap around your foot.
  • Pull the strap as to bring your leg upwards.
  • Keep your foot pointed.
  • Make sure you keep your leg completely straight
  • Maintain the pronounced lower back arch.
    • (… You should be able to slide your hand under!)

Outer:


*To target upper/outer portion: Keep knee slightly bent

*To target lower/outer portion: Keep knee straight.


 

a) Standing

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, place your foot on a block in front of you.
  • Pivot your leg inwards
  • Keep the toes pointed forwards.
  • Place your opposite hand onto the knee which is at the front.
  • Slide this hand down the leg by hinging forward at the hips.
  • Do not round your lower back.

b) Seated

Instructions:

  • Sit on the edge of a chair.
  • Place a straightened knee in front of you.
    • You can comfortably bend the other knee.
  • Turn your leg inwards.
  • Place your opposite hand onto the knee which is at the front.
  • Slide this hand down the leg by hinging forward at the hips.

c) Lying down

Instructions:

  • Lie on your back.
  • Wrap a strap around your foot. (see above)
  • Pivot your leg inwards.
  • Keep your toes pointed.
  • Pull the strap as to bring your straight leg up and across your body.
  • Maintain the pronounced arch of the lower back.

Inner:


*To target upper/inner portion: Keep knee slightly bent

*To target lower/inner portion: Keep knee straight.


 

a) Standing

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, place your foot in front of you slightly to the side of the body.
  • Turn your foot so that it is facing outwards.
  • Lean forward by hinging at the hips.

 

b) Seated

Instructions:

  • Sit on the edge of a chair.
  • Place a straightened knee the front/side of you.
    • You can comfortably bend the other knee.
  • Turn your leg outwards.
  • Lean forward by hinging at the hips.
  • Keep your lower back straight.

c) Lying down

hamstring stretches

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Wrap a band around your foot. (see above)
  • Pull the band as to bring your leg up and to the side of the body.
    • Maintain a pronounced arch of the lower back as you do this.
  • The toes should be pointing outwards.

d) Side lunge

Instructions:

  • Perform a side lunge.
  • On the side where the leg is straight, keep your foot pointing outwards.
  • Keep your pelvis tilted forward and lower back straight.
  • To progress:
    • Start from a kneeling position or
    • Perform a Cossack squat (Google it)

e) Yoga stretch

Instructions:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs as shown above.
  • On the side where the leg is straight, keep your foot pointing outwards.
  • Whilst keeping your back completely straight, lean forwards at the hips.

 

4. How do I make the above hamstring stretches more effective?

Answer: Add some isometric strengthening to them!

Isometric strengthening involves the contraction of a muscle without changing the joint angle/muscle length.


Here’s an example:

Look at Arnie flexing his biceps. He is contracting/tensing his muscle without the arm moving. 


If you do not have the strength to control the end range of motion of your hamstrings,  the body will not allow you to go into those ranges. (… it’s a protective mechanism!)

… which means that strengthening your hamstrings at its end range of movement will actually improve your flexibility!

Here’s how to do it:

Instructions:

  • Assume the desired hamstring stretch of your choice.
    • (You can pick any of the above stretches mentioned)
  • Hold the stretch for 2 minutes.
  • Hold the following positions for 3o seconds each:
    1. Whilst maintaining the above stretch position, create as much tension in your hamstring as you can by digging your heel into the ground/strap.
    2. Relax and lean further into the stretch.
    3. Re-create hamstring tension again from this new stretch position.
    4. Relax and lean further into the stretch.

5. Eccentric strengthening:

Eccentric strengthening involves the contraction of a muscle whilst it is ELONGATING.

In other words: It is a combination of strengthening + stretching at the same time.

(You can view eccentric strengthening as a progression to isometric training)

a) Upper hamstring

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, hold onto an appropriate amount of weight.
    • (… it should be a moderately heavy weight that you can control)
      • And yes, I do realise I am holding a yoga mat (haha)
  • Place a slightly bent knee in front of you. (see above)
  • Shift most of your weight to the front leg.
  • Slowly lower the weight by hinging at the hips.
    • Keep your lower back completely straight.
    • Aim to feel a pulling sensation in the upper hamstring region before returning to the starting position.
    • Keep the weight close to your body.
    • This lowering phase should take ~3-5 seconds.
  • Perform 10 repetitions.

 

b) Lower hamstring

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, hold onto an appropriate amount of weight.
  • Keep both of your knees completely straight throughout this exercise.
  • Slowly lower the weight by hinging at the hips.
    • Keep your lower back completely straight.
    • Aim to feel a pulling sensation in the lower hamstring region before returning to the starting position.
    • The lowering should take ~3-5 seconds.
  • Perform 10 repetitions.

 

 


“… Mark! I’ve done all of these exercises but I still FEEL tight! WHAT DO I DO?”

If you have performed endless amounts of hamstring stretches and not achieving the desired results, consider these points.

1. Anterior pelvic tilt

An overly stretched hamstring can also give the sensation of being “tight” .

I refer to this  as “stretch tension” where the hamstring actually in an elongated position.

(Think of an over stretched rubber band. The “tightness” felt here is actually a stretch tension.)

This is commonly seen in people with an anterior pelvic tilt.

Do NOT over stretch your hamstring muscle if you have this.

 

2. Nerve tension

The tissue surrounding the nerves in your legs can get tight too!

As these structures follow the same pathway as the hamstrings, it is quite understandable why people would make the association.

Nerve glides:

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, place your straightened leg in front of you.
  • Point your toes forward.
  • Bend forward by hinging at the hips.
    • Keep your back straight.
  • Bend our ankle backwards.
  • Feel a pull at the back of your leg.
  • Alternate between the pointed and bent ankle for 20 repetitions.

 

3. Referred from lumbar spine

Nerve compression in the lower back can cause pain down the back of the leg (also known as sciatica).

In this case, the problem is coming from the lower back, and NOT the hamstring.

There are many exercises you can do for this specifically. But I would strongly recommend you to get a scan of your back (just in case!) before attempting any exercises.

 

4. Weak glute muscles

In some people, the hamstring may be over-active and unable to relax. This is where the muscle fibres are constantly firing off.

This will give the sensation of tightness in the hamstrings.

Heard of hamstring dominance? This is where the hamstring muscles are over active as they take over the role of the gluteal muscles.

Check out the post: Is sitting destroying your butt muscles? if you would like to know more about this.

Generally speaking: the weaker your gluteals muscles, the more active your hamstrings will have to be.

 


… and thus concludes the post on hamstring stretches.

Say goodbye to your tight hamstrings!

If further clarification is required, please feel free to leave a comment down below.

 

 

About

I am a physiotherapist who has personally experienced the pain as a result of bad posture. I would like to offer you some of the solutions that I and my patients have greatly benefited from.

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4 thoughts on “Hamstring stretches

  1. Hi Mark! I want to know about the backbone pain exercise I am a programmer and my job is to sit on chair for the whole day in front of my laptop sometimes when I stand up I feel a swear pain in my lower back between hips and the end of my backbone. Thanks

    1. Hi Miguel,

      Can you locate the area on a diagram for me.

      I am having difficulty understanding which specific area you are referring to.

      Mark

  2. Hi Mark! Do you have exercises you can suggest for hamstring and the gastrocnemius? I get muscle spasms/cramps every night and nothing I have tried stops the spasms/cramp once it starts. Also, on the left side only of my bottom I have a really tight muscle that goes vertically right over my my butt bone. I can actually rock back and forth over the tight muscle. Any suggestions for an exercise to loosen that muscle? Finally, I have hunched shoulders and I was thinking of purchasing a posture corrector/brace. Do you have any suggestions on which brand would be the best? Thank you so much in advance!

    1. Hey Julie,

      Here are some quick thoughts:

      – Check to make sure that you do not have anterior pelvic tilt. This will place a lot of tension through the hamstrings and will often lead to over-activity of the calf muscle.

      – These hamstring stretches should help IF the hamstring is actually tight.

      – Make sure you do not have lower back issues that may be causing neural tension. You can do this test to find out if you have it:

      -If you are involved with sports/gym, ensure that your technique is not forcing you to use hamstring/calves excessively.

      – check your magnesium levels with your doctor.

      – Get strong glutes

      In regards to the posture brace, I generally don’t recommend them so I do not know which one is the best.

      Mark

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