The hamstring stretches that you'll learn on this page will make you feel amazing. We promise. They literally make you feel 10 years younger heck, 20 or 30 years younger.
Once you've sat down for a good half hour and stretched your hamstrings you will feel better in your legs, back, neck and glutes. That is what real freedom feels like. You can't possibly feel free when all of those muscles are being dominated by your tight hamstrings.You don't have to sit down for half an hour at a time. Just 10 minutes every day will give you massive improvements. But in the beginning it could be good to have a crack at a great big stretch. It will let you know what it feels like to be free.
Now, let's get into some basics
First of all, you must realise that your hamstrings are very strong muscles. They often need a long time to stretch out to their fullest. It can take months of stretching to get to a reasonably flexible level. So don't expect any super-quick results.
A very important, but often overlooked, part of these stretches is the breathing. Proper breathing can make them work amazingly well. The proper technique goes like this...
Breathe in Stretch and increase the tension in your hamstrings.
Breathe out Consciously relax the muscle.
Keep doing this... You should feel your body relax and get into a rhythm. This is when your muscles start to release their tension.
Speaking of relaxing
Rather than trying to stretch your hamstring, sometimes it is better to think of it more as relaxing your hamstring. What we're trying to say is not to stretch it too hard. It can make you tense up and it will be very hard to make any progress with the stretch. Get to know your own body and you will feel what is the right amount. If you put too much pressure you will feel your body resisting. If you then release some of that pressure you will feel your body relax a little. Try it out and see what happens.
Now, let's say you're doing the basic hammie stretch...
A common mistake made by a lot of people is that they try to get their head down to their knee's. With this goal in mind you will tend to stretch the muscles of your neck and back more than you do for your hamstrings. What you ideally want to do is imagine your body bending right at the hips. Do not worry about getting your head down further or your arms out further. Just worry about getting your abdomen flat with your thighs first of all. Then, after your flexibility increases, you can begin to move your head down until you are lying flat on your legs.
Just a quick piece of advice before we start
Most of these hamstring stretches can be intensified by a simple pelvic tilt. This moves the stretch from lower in your leg to right up in the hamstring. It's like a "poking your bum out" movement. Give it a try, it's not hard.
And away we go
These are the hamstring stretches that you will learn from this article:
Basic hammie stretch
One leg in, one leg out
Bent over hammie stretch
Leg on a ledge
Touch your toes
Benefits of These Hamstring Stretches
If you do them every day they will boost your flexibility beyond your wildest dreams.
Your hamstrings can be some of the most restrictive muscles if they are tight. These hamstring stretches loosen your hammies and free your body up.
They will help to keep your body strong and pain free. Hamstring stretches combined with glute stretches are especially good for lower back pain.
These hamstring stretches are very relaxing when done properly. Great for relieving stress.
You'll be able to touch your toes.
These hamstring stretches help tremendously when practicing to
do the splits.
Basic Hamstring Stretch
The basic hamstring stretch is one of the easiest and best ways of stretching your hamstrings. If you learn how to do one stretch properly on this page, make it this one.
This stretch has three stages to it. The three stages are in order of the way that you should progress.
Sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you.
Try to sit a little forward of your tailbone. If you are finding this hard, sit on a cushion, and wriggle forward.
Sit up straight and breathe in.
Breathe out and bend at the hips.
Reach forward and touch your toes.
Make sure your feet are vertical.
Stage one of the hamstring stretches.
Keep bending at the hips.
If you can, move your hands down to your heels.
Keep moving your abdomen closer to your thighs.
Concentrate on feeling that stretch in your hamstrings.
Keep bending at the hips and flattening your abdominals towards your thighs.
See if you can lie flat on your legs.
Extend your hands along the ground.
Please bear in mind that it can take a long time to get from one stage to another. Obviously the more you practice the more benefits you will get. If you can stretch every single day your flexibility will improve in leaps and bounds.
One Leg In One Leg out
This method of stretching your hamstrings is good for isolating just one of your legs. If you are very tight you will probably be able to stretch one leg a lot easier than doing both at once. It's a good idea to start with this way until you build up your flexibility a bit.
Sit up straight and a little forward of your tail bone. (Use a cushion if you're having trouble doing this).
Put your left leg out straight in front of you.
Bend your right leg and put your foot against your other leg.
Bend forward at the hip and breathe out.
Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
Doorway Hamstring Stretch
This is a great hamstring stretch. It is easy to do and it's really good if you're feeling very tight. It's great for just chilling out listening to music or whatever it is you like to do down on the floor. ;) You can just have one leg resting up on the wall, you don't even have to think about stretching it. It just does it by itself. How's that for a great hamstring stretch.
Find a doorway in your house.
Put one leg through the doorway and the other leg up the wall next to the door.
Try to get your buttocks as close to the wall as possible.
Make sure your "floor leg" is straight out along the floor.
Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
Bent Over Hammie Stretch
This is a very nice stretch. It's easy to get a nice strong stretch with this one.
Get into the position shown.
Rest your hands on your shins.
Bend forward at the hips and breathe out.
Tilt your pelvis until the stretch is nice and strong in your hamstring.
Hold for 30 seconds
Repeat on the opposite side.
Lying Hamstring Stretch
This stretch can be done in two ways. If you're not very flexible yet you can use a towel like we've shown in the second picture.
Lie on your back and lift one leg up as high as you can.
Grab onto it with your hands (or a towel) and pull it back towards you.
Work towards having your "floor leg" straight out along the floor and your "air leg" straight and flat against your body.
Hold for 30 seconds.
Repeat with the opposite side.
This can be a powerful stretch. It is good because you can control how much stretch you are getting by how far forward you are leaning and the height of the ledge that you are using.
Find a ledge that you think will be the right height.
Put one of your legs up onto it.
Keep both your legs straight.
Bend forward at the hips and stretch that hammie.
Hold for 30 seconds.
Repeat with the other leg.
Using a chair to stretch your hamstrings
Touch Your Toes
This is a good one for doing first thing in the morning as soon as you get out of bed. It makes you feel more alive.
Stand up straight.
Bend at the hips and let your body relax down.
Keep your legs straight.
Just hang loose man!
Bend down and touch your toes to stretch your hamstrings
Learn The Flexibility Secrets That Even Most Yoga Students Will Never Know
A couple of weeks ago I signed up to Lucas Rockwood's free 7-day flexibility course. It's basically just a series of Yoga "secrets" that get sent to your email daily.
The secret I found most interesting was day #3. It was all about the effect that food has on your flexibility. I was surprised to find out how important diet is!
1.Raise your hand if you stayed up last night to watch the entire broadcast of the Oscars.
Sheepishly raises hand.
I can’t say I was surprised by any of the winners. I was secretly hoping that would somehow snake out a win for Best Actor for his role in Wolf of Wall Street, but I knew that either McConaughey or Chiwetel Ejiofor (you know, the guy who’s name no one can pronounce) were the favorites.
I was happy to see Jared Leto win, and was really happy to see Alfonso Cuaron win for Best.
And, OMG, can you freakin believe Helium won for Best Live Action Short.
All in all, as always, I loved every second and can’t wait till next year.
2.This is really out of character for me, and I know this is going to raise a few eyebrows.
3. And since we’re on the topic of “stuff I’ve written,” I also contributed to a piece last week on Stack.com titled 13 Fitness Challenges That Will Destroy You.
They won’t literally destroy you – that’s a bit much – but it stands to reason they’ll offer a change of pace to your routine if you’re looking to add a little variety. Check them out!
4. I received a question recently that I felt would be better served answering here since I’m able to reach more people on this blog and I’m sure many reading have toyed with the same topic.
Q: Tony, where would static stretching fit into a week of working out? Do you recommend it on recovery days, or a specialized flexibility training day? Post-workout? Before bed?
A: As with anything: it depends. Not a sexy answer, but it’s the truth.
Stretching for the sake of stretching isn’t necessarily a good thing. While their intentions are in the right place, I see many people flopping on the stretch mat at local commercial gyms doing what they deem as “stretching,” but all I really see is a complete waste of time.
Stretching IS important – as a society it’s crystal clear that we sit a lot, and as such things tend to get adaptively short or stiff. This is something that definitely needs to be addressed, because if it isn’t one runs the risk of developing muscular imbalances that not affects posture but can lead to pain or injury down the road.
The thing is: the vast majority of people tend to stretch what they’re good at or what feels good. What’s more, people tend to get into positions thinking they’re stretching one muscle, when in fact they’re not even close. Does this one ring a bell?
Many would recognize this as a hamstring stretch. Wanna know what I see? A lower back stretch.
Moreover, you could argue whether or not traditional stretching actually does anything? Doing a few 30-second stretches here and there won’t really mount to much. If a tissue is truly short it has lost sarcomeres In order to really make a difference, you need to increase the series of sarcomeres and that takes A LOT more than a few 30-second stretches.
In fact if you asked Bill Hartman how much stretching it actually takes to make a difference, he’d say you need to cumulatively hold a stretch anywhere from 20-60 minutes!
Of course, that’s not practical for most people.
This isn’t to say that some stretching isn’t better than no stretching but rather just to give some people a semblance of expectation management.
And then there are other factors to consider. Someone who scores high on the Beighton Laxity Test certainly doesn’t need to go out of his or her way to perform a lot of static stretching.
Another thing to consider is HOW people stretch.
One key factor that many people tend to conveniently gloss over is alignment. Stretching the hip flexors is an often targeted area for most people, and rightfully so. Because we tend to sit in flexion all day, it stands to reason many people need a crowbar to “un-glue” their hips. To counteract this many will opt to stretch, like this:
Notice the massive extension pattern and anterior pelvic tilt she’s in? This isn’t really accomplishing anything other than to run the risk of developing femoral anterior glide syndrome (where the femoral head is literally jammed forward.)
Unless this person cleans up he starting position brace the anterior core, squeeze the glute of the trailing leg, getting, encouraging more posterior pelvic tilt and getting out of extension – she can do this stretch for hours on end and really not accomplish anything.
Now all of this isn’t say that I’m poo-pooing on stretch altogether. It DOES have its place, and it DOES serve a purpose. But I just feel more people need to be cognizant of what they’re stretching and more importantly, HOW they’re stretching.
I feel stretching before a training session is best. What good is it to stretch before bed when you’re just going to lie down anyways?
I’d rather see people address tissue quality, mobilize, stretch, and then “cement” that new length with appropriate strength training.
Again, the idea is to encourage more “neutral,” get into more optimal alignment, and then train.
Hamstring StrainDoing hamstring exercises could be the best thing you do if you experience a hamstring injury, or if you plan to participate in an activity that uses the hamstrings. Proper hamstring stretches and exercises will keep the hamstrings in good shape, always limber, and strengthened as well. When doing hamstring exercises and stretches, ensure safety by wearing . These products put the right amount of pressure on the thigh muscles to offer reduced pain, warmth, and support during a workout.
Hamstring Strain Stretches
we recommend some of the following stretches for your hamstrings:
Sitting Hamstring Stretch Sitting on the floor with your legs outstretched in front of you, wrap the with each of your hands. Sitting upright, gently pull back on the handles, while pushing outward with the ball of your feet. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.
Laying Hamstring Stretch Lay with your back against the floor, your knees bent, and your feet flat on the ground near your buttocks. Lift one leg up into the air with the sole of the foot facing up. Wrap the around the ball of the foot and gently pull down on both handles. Keep your leg slightly bent to reduce further injury. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.Kickback Stretch Get down on the ground on your hands and knees, keeping your back straight without an arch. Slowly extend the leg backward so that it lines up with the spine. Gently kick or push outward with the heel of the foot. Hold for 30 seconds, release, and repeat ten times.
The most common cause of hamstring injuries is muscular imbalance, often in the case of quadriceps and hamstring muscles. The quadriceps can become very strong, or overworked in comparison to the hamstrings, and can pull on the hamstrings if the hamstrings are not strong enough or flexible enough. Here is where the whole balance thing comes in. In order to get rid of the tightness and perform well in whatever your sport of choice may be, your muscles must work together and not fight each other. Getting your hamstring to loosen up and work with the glutes to balance out the quads, will help you gain strength and flexibility.
The best way to minimize hamstring imbalances is to stretch them through dynamic motions, meaning through exercises that actually move and lengthen the hamstrings. Dynamic stretches are created by the flexibility we create while we are moving. We also need to make sure to strengthen the hamstrings through targeted exercises, and I have just the exercises for you! You can also add some static stretches, rolling exercises, or self myofascial release work to your routine.
Here are a couple of fundamental pilates exercises you can do at home to increase the flexibility and strength of your hamstrings. The good news is that these exercises help with hamstring flexibility while working other parts of your body.
Single Leg Circles
Purpose: This exercise will stretch the hamstring, mobilize the hip joints, teach pelvic stabilization and strengthen the hip flexors.
What you do: to prepare, extend one leg out toward the tip of your mat, leg straight and foot flexed. Bend the opposite leg toward your chest and wrap both hands around the back of that knee.
Start with knee bends: Stretch the lifted leg toward the ceiling and flex your foot, feeling the stretch in your hamstring. Bend and stretch the knee 3 times to prepare for the leg circle. Doing the knee bend before the leg circle (on each side) will release the hamstring so you could get a bigger range of motion throughout the exercise.
Extend the raised leg toward the ceiling and point your toes to begin. Flex the foot of the bottom leg. Go only as far as you can to keep your pelvis from rocking side to side.
Circle the leg across the body and down toward the opposite leg. Make sure that the hip of the leg on the mat is rooted into the mat and not lifting off while you are doing the leg circle.
Finish the circle, and get back to the starting position with you extended leg pointed toward the ceiling. Repeat the circle 8 times.
Switch directions by circling the same pointed leg away from the body and back to the starting position. Repeat reverse circle 8 times.
Bring the raised leg down to the mat, flex the foot, and repeat with the other leg.
Breath pattern: Inhale to start the circle, exhale to finish the circle.
Single Straight Leg Stretch
Purpose: This exercise will stretch and increase flexibility in the hamstrings, strengthen the abdominals, and develop pelvic stability and core control.
What you do: to prepare, lie with the back on your mat, head and upper body rounded off the mat with one leg reaching toward the ceiling and the other leg reaching to the tip of your mat with the foot pointed. Let the lowered leg hover off the mat as low as you can go to keep the pelvis stable.
Draw the abdominals into the spine and bring the working leg closer to you, and pulse it twice toward your chest. Keep the pelvis still, pull the abdominals in with every repetition, and don’t let them rise.
Switch legs and keep making the scissor like movement, alternating between legs, while keeping the upper body and the head in the same position throughout the exercise. Work up to 12 on each side.
Modification: support the lifted head with your hands and do the scissor like movement without your hands helping to pull the legs in. Alternatively, you can lower the upper body down completely and use the lower body only to do the exercise
Breath pattern: two small inhales accompany the two leg pulses, exhale when switching legs.
Purpose: This exercise will strengthen the hamstrings. The hamstrings (together with the abdominals) lift the pelvis off the floor without moving the legs, and work hard to keep the body in a bridge position. It’s the abdominal-hamstring force that help move the pelvis and articulate the spine while keeping the legs still.
What you do: to prepare, lie on your mat with knees bent and feet flat on the mat, hip-distance apart. Place arms by your side with palms down.
Draw the abdominals in, and slowly curl the pelvis in, and lift the lower back, then the middle back, then the upper back sequentially off the mat.
Stay lifted, with your glutes engaged, abdominals pulled in to form a straight line on the top side of the body. Hold here for a few seconds.
Lower the torso, one vertebra at a time starting with the upper back to return to the starting position. Imagine that you are wearing a horizontally striped shirt, and you want to lower one stripe at a time toward the mat, starting with the top stripe.
Breath pattern: Inhale to prepare, exhale to lift off the mat into the bridge, inhale to reach a bit higher into the straight line, exhale while slowly lower down one vertebrae at a time.
These pilates exercises alone will stretch your hamstrings, but you can always do additional stretching. Specific stretching can speed up the body’s ability to learn new movement patterns and perform exercises. There are 2 important things to remember while you’re doing the hamstring stretches below:
Overcome the stretch reflex
hold the stretch long enough, usually 45 seconds
The “stretch reflect” is the muscle’s reaction to the stretch. When the muscle is stretched, the length of the muscle changes and the muscle receptors within the muscle detect the change in length. They send a signal to the brain to contract. Your body basically tries to resist the stretch, actually causing your muscles to contract, creating a stronger flex. You can overcome the stretch reflex in a variety of ways. Some examples include a contract/release movement, an active isolated stretch, and simply holding the stretch for an extended period of time.
Make sure you don’t hold a static stretch when your muscle is not warmed up – so don’t just roll out of bed and start pulling on your hamstrings. Warm-up or exercise first, and then do the stretches.
Purpose: Contracting and releasing your hamstring before coming into the stretch will relax your muscle fibers and let you come into a deeper stretch.
What you do: Starting with laying on the mat, place a strap or a band around the arch of your foot, extend the leg as straight as possible and raise it as high as possible without lifting the hip of the mat.
Press the leg into the strap and contract the hamstring for one long inhale (imagine the you are pushing the foot toward the ceiling without lifting your hip off the mat), and then exhale and release the leg into a deep stretch (closer toward your chest). There should not be any movement, just a contraction of the hamstring. Repeat 3 times.
Hold the stretch for 45 seconds, and switch legs.
Purpose: You will use your quadriceps, the muscles on the opposite side of your joint, to pull the hamstrings into a stretched position to overcome the stretch reflex.
What you do: Start laying down on the mat, place a strap or a band around the arch of your foot, extend the leg toward the ceiling, and raise it up as high as possible without lifting the hip off the mat.
Supporting the weight of the leg with the strap, raise the leg using your quad to stretch the hamstring. Raise and lower the leg 10 times.
Hold the stretch for 45 seconds, and switch legs.
Holding the Stretch
Purpose: Overcome the stretch reflex with time.
What you do: Start laying down on the mat, place a strap or a band around the arch of your foot, extend the leg toward the ceiling, and raise it up as high as possible without lifting the hip off the mat. Hold the stretch for 45 seconds to a minute. Release and switch legs.
You can also roll out on the roller, and use the trigger point ball to release the hamstrings. Any combinations will work, as long as you remember to stretch and strengthen.
And if you’re a runner and looking for dynamic, runner specific stretches
It can often seem like there are two kinds of people in the world – flexible people and those who… well, aren’t. This distinction seems especially noticeable when you fall into the “not flexible” camp.
So what’s the deal? Is it true that some people are just born stiff and tight?
Diagram of muscles in posterior chain
Obligatory “science” image: The important thing is to notice the overlap of various muscles.
This may seem silly or obvious, but just because you can’t touch your toes doesn’t necessarily mean your hamstrings are to blame for your limited range of motion. There can be quite a few structures in your “posterior chain” that are limiting your movement (especially if you have a job that requires you to sit or drive for long periods of time).
For example, your calves (gastrocnemius muscles) cross the knee joint, so restrictions there can make keeping your knees straight harder than it should be.
Also, the connections from your deep hip muscles (glutes, piriformis, gemelli, etc.) can affect the ease in which your pelvis tilts, thus affecting how you bend forward at the hip.
Another factor could be the tightness of the fascial interconnections between your muscle groups (picture this as your muscles being “stuck together,” and thus they don’t slide freely beside each other).
Then there’s joint restrictions at your lower back and pelvis, which can cause increased tension throughout your hips and legs. With these, people often feel much more freedom in their motion after doing exercises that limber up the spine (without stretching their legs much at all).
Or it could be a combination of all of the above, which is definitely common with flexibility issues.
So, yes your hamstrings may be tight, but that might just be a small part of the problem (an outward symptom) and you’d want to address all of these issues first.
How should you go about doing that?
Flexibility Tips to Release Tight Hamstrings
There’s a lot of things you could do to begin stretching out your hamstrings for greater flexibility, but here are 6 tips to improve your movement and flexibility now, and get rid of that “ropes in the back of the legs” feeling:
Don’t force any stretch, ever
You’ve heard this advice before (we’re sure) and probably ignored it. You may have thought, “If I just work on it harder and push through, my flexibility will improve.” But the trouble with this philosophy is that when you’re working on flexibility, your muscles (and nerves) aren’t passive structures.
So, stretching too forcefully or too quickly will activate a “stretch reflex,” which increases muscle tension and resists the stretch. Don’t fight yourself on this one!
calf stretches to release the posterior chain
Here’s what you can try instead:
Pick a stretch, and rock slowly back and forth into the stretch several times.
Focus on having an even, steady breath.
Every few repetitions, hold the stretch for a bit and see where you’re at.
After a 30 seconds or so, you’ll likely find yourself further into the stretch with much less strain than before. Easy, right?
The following video shows fundamental hamstring stretches that just require an elevated surface – a bench, chair, table, or anything sturdy enough to put your foot on. Just as described above, ease into the stretches with smooth rhythmic movements into and out of the stretch, followed by a short holding period.
I show a few variations in the short video, but just choose one that you are comfortable with at first, then feel free to play around with the techniques to see what works best for you!
Bend your knees when you begin stretching
Seated forward fold with knees bent
Can’t straighten your legs? That’s totally OK. Keep with it, and you’ll get there in time.
Yup, go ahead, it’s fine.
Bending forward with straight legs is great if you can do it, but otherwise it’s not the best choice if you’re having trouble moving even a few inches forward in the straight leg stretch position. So, bend your knees and take the slack off the calves and hamstring attachments at your knees.
Focus instead on maintaining a flat or slightly arched back, and keep your chest up and hinge forward at your hips.
Work other areas first to relax the hamstrings
As we mentioned earlier, the source of your flexibility issues could be the result of the other areas of your body, rather than just your hamstrings.
Work on back and hip stretches such as these here and here, and also calf stretches before your usual hamstring work – you’ll probably notice you have freer motion right away!
Don’t hold static stretches for so long
The results of many flexibility research studies have consistently shown minimal increased benefits for holding a position longer than 15 – 30 seconds. This is why we recommend doing shorter holds with more repetitions (especially if you’re just starting out with flexibility work).
Longer holds may be helpful if you’re working on a specific issue (and after you’ve already spending some time working on shorter holds), but don’t spend minutes in a position in an attempt to improve especially when you are just starting out. Holding for a longer period of time can be useful in certain situations, but that takes experience and practice to figure out if that’s best for you.
Follow up with active, dynamic movements
Have you ever noticed that your flexibility gains from an earlier training session seem to disappear once you try to work on the position again? This can be frustrating, and this phenomenon is often caused by a lack of increased movement in this new range of motion.
What does that mean? Use it or lose it, of course!
The retention of range of motion requires active use in the new range, otherwise your body reverts back to your old range of motion in that position. Essentially, you need to re-educate your body to move in this new range. Dynamic exercises such as deep squatting, leg swings, full range jumping, and kicking drills work very well.
With that in mind though, keep the intensity low and well within your limits, and don’t do prolonged stretching before any heavy exercise.
Try just one flexibility technique at a time
Using a lacrosse ball to release tight hips
Detail of using a lacrosse ball to release tight hips.
The five tips listed above are the best general tips we have to improve your flexibility right now. There are quite a few other methods you can try as well:
Tack and stretch
There’s nothing wrong with trying any of these methods, but beware of trying everything at once. If you try out too many methods at once, you won’t know which method in particular works best for you, or worse, you won’t know which thing could possibly set you back.
Sitting, bending over, walking up stairs or running for the bus all remind you of the problem.
And they can take a long freaking time to heal, putting you out of action for weeks or months on end.
The temptation of course is to stretch.
It feels tight after all.
Stretching them feels good.
But it’s important to realise that just because your hamstrings feel tight doesn’t mean they need stretching.
In fact, stretching can often make it worse (not better) as I found out.
WHY STRETCHING YOUR HAMSTRINGS CAN MAKE YOUR INJURY WORSE
Always keep in mind that discomfort/pain/injury is only a symptom of the problem but is not always the source of it.
There are many reasons why your hamstrings can feel tight. And my role here is not to diagnose yours.
But there’s one cause of tight hamstrings that I see in the majority of runners and cyclists I’ve worked with
Your quads are too tight.
Yes, that’s right. Your quads (thighs) are too tight which is causing the hamstring problem.
But how do I know if my quads are too tight?
This is the basic framework that I think about when my clients mention hamstring pain ~
1.How is their hamstring flexibility?
To test this, I get my clients to do a simple single leg hamstring flexibility test.
Notice the difference one leg to the other
Notice the difference one leg to the other
Here, I’m looking primarily for symmetry. Do they have the same approximate flexibility in both legs? How much flexibility they have – how high they can lift a leg – is a factor but my primary concern is whether they are symmetrical. If not, there is an imbalance needs to be rectified.
2.If your hamstrings aren’t symmetrical, then stretch the tighter one more than your other leg.
That might seem obvious.
But I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched a client who is well aware of an imbalance on purpose stretch their stronger side as much as they stretch their weaker side.
That’s never going to fix an imbalance. You might improve the flexibility in the ‘tighter’ side but the difference between both legs will remain the same!
3. Regardless of whether your hamstrings are imbalanced, stretch & roll your quads!
Imagine your hips are a flat circular disc. Your quads (thighs) attach at the front of the disc and your hamstrings at the back.
If your quads are tight, they pull down on the front of the disc (your hips).
As the front of the disc is pulled down, the back of the disc (and your hamstrings) are pulled up or are raised higher, lengthening them and giving you the sensation they are tight.
So the reason they feel tight is often because they are already overstretched. And as I’m sure you can imagine, the last thing they need or want is to be stretched further!
This is why for many people stretching your tight hamstrings rarely reduces the sensation of tightness.
This is really common in triathletes, cyclists and runners who tend to be ‘quad-dominant’ (so you use your quads more than you use the back of your legs).
So stretch & foam rolls your quads (thighs) instead.
Try it for yourself; you’ll probably also find that if one hamstring is tighter, the same quad (thigh) is likely to be the tighter of the two. Think back to the disc; as one side is pulled down, the other side is pulled up.
So releasing the pressure on your quads will automatically take pressure off your hamstrings without you having to do anything specifically for your hamstrings.
Of course there are some people with postural issues who shouldn’t adopt this tack. Which is why it’s important to have your body assessed by a physio or coach with experience in this.
4.Strengthen your hamstrings.
Yes, those muscles in the back of your legs. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t crucial to your sport.
Most of us myself included who are “quad dominant” are stronger + tighter in our quads (thighs) and weaker in your hamstrings and glutes (butt).
So strengthening this region is vital if you are to sort out your imbalances. Here are two hamstring exercises to help you do that.
Fix your hamstrings once and for all!
There are a number of other factors and things you can work on to address hamstring issues but this is a perfect place for you to start.
In the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
1/. Have you been plagued by hamstring problems before?
2/. Which of these steps are you going to commit to doing today? When you do, make sure you come back and report your findings with us!
Protective Tension of the Hamstrings
This is readily apparent in someone who has a crazy anterior pelvic tilt, which puts a big stretch on the hamstrings, which posteriorly tilt the pelvis. When someone is extremely anteriorly tilted, the hamstrings are constantly “on” to prevent someone from ending up with extension-based back pain, such as spondylolysis (vertebral fractures), spondylolisthesis (vertebral “slippage”), and lumbar erector tightness/strains. This is a problem most commonly seen in females (greater anterior pelvic tilt than men) and athletes:
Doing a lot of longer duration static stretching for the hamstrings in this population usually isn’t a great idea, as you run the risk of making someone more unstable – particularly in the case of females, who have less rigid ligamentous restraints (more congenital laxity) to protect them. To that end, our approach with these folks is to use the warm-ups to foam roll the area, then do some hamstrings mobilizations to transiently reduce stiffness in the hamstrings.
After this reduction in stiffness, we work to build stability in synergists to the hamstrings in posterior pelvic tilt. In other words, there’s a heavy emphasis on glute activation and anterior core recruitment both with a strength training program and postural reeducation for the other 23 hours of the day.
At the end of the training session, with the male athletes, we may do some shorter duration hamstrings stretching just to “dissipate” a little eccentric stress. I like ten seconds in each of these three positions:
Truly Tight Hamstrings
In order for hamstrings to really be short, one would have to spend a lot of time with the knee flexed and hip extended – so just imagine the position you’re in at the top of a standing leg curl. That’s a hard pose to hold for an extended period of time, much less do so on a regular basis.
- That said, some folks do get somewhat close to that on a daily basis in the sitting position, and are therefore the most likely to really have “tight hamstrings.” They have to be in posterior pelvic tilt and knee flexion for a considerable chunk of the day – and even then, it’s still pretty tough to be truly short, as they are still in hip flexion.
- These folks usually can’t distinguish hip flexion from lumbar flexion, so if you do a standing hip flexion assessment, rather than maintain the neutral spine we see in this photo, they’ll go into lumbar flexion (butt will “tuck under.
- The same trend will usually be noticeable with any kind of squat unless they have a tremendous amount of core stiffness to overcome the posterior hip stiffness that’s present. If you test these folks on an straight leg raise, it isn’t pretty, as the pelvis is already posteriorly tilted. In a pelvis that starts in “neutral” on a straight leg raise, roughly the first 1/3 of movement that you see comes from posterior tilt of the pelvis before the femur ever starts to flex on the acetabulum of the pelvis. These folks are usually already posteriorly tilt, so that 1/3 is already used up; you’re really only measuring hip flexion and not hip flexion PLUS posterior pelvic tilt. And, as you can imagine, if someone is truly short in the hamstrings, that straight leg raise isn’t going to be pretty. Obviously, these folks usually have a terrible toe touch pattern as well.
- This should also educate you on why you can’t treat all hamstrings strains the same. In the protective tension example earlier, we needed to work to regain stability to hold a position of a bit more posterior pelvic tilt. We’d cue glute activation, and use exercises that draw folks back into posterior tilt (e.g., reverse crunches). If you have someone has a pulled hamstrings because they are truly short from already being in posterior pelvic tilt, though, some of these cues and exercises would be contraindicated. You’d be feeding the dysfunction.
- While manual therapy and stretching for the posterior hip is valuable, again, it must be followed by stabilization work at adjacent joints with the pelvis in a neutral position. These folks can benefit from training hip flexion above 90 degrees as well, as it educates them on how to flex the hip without rounding the lumbar spine. This is one reason why I think a lot of the chop and lift exercises we’ve learned from Gray Cook are so fantastic; they teach us anti-rotation and anti-extension stability in various positions of hip flexion while the pelvis is in neutral. They make changes “stick” better.
Previous Hamstrings Strain
Not to be overlooked in this discussion is the simple fact that the single-best predictor of hamstrings strains is a previous hamstrings injury.One you have an injury, that area may never be the same from a tissue density standpoint whether it’s the surrounding fascia or the muscle or tendon itself. A previous injury can leave athletes feeling “tight” in the region, so regular manual therapy can certainly help in this regard.
- Anecdotally, the athletes with the long-term problems seem to be the ones with the pulls up on the gluteal fold, right where the hamstrings tendons attach to the ischial tuberosity. The area gets “gunked up”in a lot of athletes as it is because of all the tissues coming together and exerting force in a small area, but it’s especially problematic in those who have a previous injury in the region. Perhaps more problematic, though, is the fact that we sit on our proximal hamstrings attachments and that isn’t exactly good for blood flow and tissue regeneration.
- I haven’t seen any research on it, but I have a feeling that if you looked at this region in a lot athletes with ultrasound (similar to this study with patellar tendons), you’d find a ton of people walking around with substantial degenerative changes that could be diagnosed as tendinosis even though they haven’t actually hit a symptomatic threshold. My guess is that it’s even worse in the posterior hip region because we sit on it,the ischial tuberosity is a more “congested” area than the anterior knee, and the study I noted above used 14-18 year-old athletes, and degenerative problems will get worse as one gets older (meaning this study likely undercut the true prevalence across the entire population).
- Very simply, an athlete with a previous hamstrings strain needs to stay on top of quality manual therapy on the area, and be cognizant of maintaining mobility and stability in the right places. They have less wiggle room with which to work.
Of course, the fifth reason you hamstrings might be tight is because you might actually have a hamstrings injury! It could be an actual hamstrings strain, or just a tendinosis (overuse issue where tissue loading exceeds tissue tolerance for loading). There is no one perfect recommendation in this regard, as a tendinosis or grade 1 hamstrings strain is going to be much more tolerable than a grade 3 hamstrings strain where you have bruising all along the back of your thigh.
- In terms of maintaining a training effect with the less serious ones, here are a few suggestions:
- When you are ready to deadlift, use trap bar deadlifts instead of conventional or sumo deadlift variations. I explain a bit more about how the positioning of the center of gravity makes this more hamstrings friendly HERE.
- Shorten up your stride on single-leg exercises. This makes the movement slightly more quad dominant, but allows you to still get the benefits of controlling the frontal and transverse planes with appropriate glute and adductor recruitment at the hip.
- Go with step-up and reverse sled dragging variations. Eliminating the eccentric component can take a considerably amount of stress off the hamstrings, and both these exercises get the job done well.
- If you’re going to squat, start with front squats at the beginning, and reintegrate back squat and box squat variations later on, as they will be more hamstrings intensive.
- Understand anatomy. If you are in hip flexion and knee extension, you’re going to really be stretching the hamstrings and likely irritating them in the process. Select exercises that don’t hit these painful end-ranges, and then gradually reintroduce more dramatic ranges of motion as the issues subside.
- Do hill sprints before you do regular sprints. Your stride is going to be a bit shorter with hill sprints, and that’ll take a considerable amount of stress off the hamstrings at heel strike (pretty good research on uphill vs. downhill sprinting HERE, for those who are interested). Just don’t go out and run as hard as you can the first time out; propulsive forces are still quite high.
- Of course, this just speaks to how to train around a pulled hamstrings; there is really a lot more to look at if you want to really understand why they occur and how to prevent or address them. In my eyes, this post was necessarily “geeky,” as it is important that we don’t dumb down complex injuries to “just stretch it out.” This recommendation is analogous to a doctor just telling someone to take some for regular headaches; it doesn’t get to the root of the problem, and it may actually make things worse.