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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
January 26, 2023
Unfortunately, tight hamstrings are becoming all too prevalent for many of us as desk jobs and the desire to binge-watch Netflix result in more sitting and less activity day-to-day.
In addition to prolonged sitting, poor posture, genetics, and tightness or weakness in surrounding muscles can all cause tight hamstrings, which not only makes you feel uncomfortable but can potentially lead to injury.
But you’re in luck, as there's a remedy for tight hammies. The cure? Stretching! No matter how tight your hamstrings are, there are stretches designed to help alleviate the pain in the back of your thighs. And we're about to discuss them all.
Table of Contents:
Located on the back of your thigh, the hamstrings muscle groups look like three guitar strings that connect your hip to the knee. You'll find these muscles hard at work in all of these leg curl alternate exercises, as they work together to extend your hip, flex and straighten your knee, and rotate your lower leg.
Here's a look at each hamstring muscle:
Tight hamstrings may also be caused by surrounding muscle imbalances, or cause other muscles to become tight. Other potentially impacted muscles include:
Now that we know what muscles we need to stretch, let's get right into how to stretch hamstrings! These 10 best hamstring stretching exercises will have you feeling loose and limber.
One of our favorite stretches for tight hamstrings, the standing hamstring stretch can be modified for all levels. If you cannot go very far into the stretch, set up a bench or box to reach and hold onto to feel the stretch.
If you are more advanced, try to place your hands flat on the floor or behind your heels.
How to do the Standing Hamstring Stretch:
This beginner stretch will do your hammies wonders. If you need a modification, try bending your opposite leg while keeping your foot flat on the floor.
This exercise will feel amazing after performing these dumbbell hamstring exercises!
How to do the Lying Hamstring Stretch:
This is a more advanced stretch, as it's tough to hold this position if you don't have a certain amount of flexibility. If you're finding your flexibility is hindering this stretch, first start with your legs straight up. This provides a gentler option.
How to do the Wall Hamstring Stretch:
For this take on the wall hamstring stretch, a towel helps keep your leg straight and the hamstrings in the fully lengthened position.
In addition, the towel around your foot will help you keep your foot flexed, causing you to feel the entire chain of your leg working together during the stretch.
Make your hammies happy by including this stretch after a routine that has Nordic hamstring curls. You'll appreciate the post-workout lengthening.
How to do the Towel Hamstring Stretch:
Just as we should identify and work on muscle imbalances in our training routine, we should do the same thing when stretching. This standing variation is excellent for isolating one hamstring muscle at a time while also providing the calf with a much-needed stretch.
Start with a lighter band to assess your tolerance, and keep your back flat as you hinge forward. Remember, you can pull on the band as much or as little as you need to. It's important to start at your level to avoid injury.
How to do the Standing Hamstring Stretch:
You are likely going to need to be able to do several of the other stretches before you attempt this one, as it’s a little more advanced.
Focus on grabbing your calves to keep the leg pulled into your chest while keeping the other leg off the floor. This pilates movement is a great core exercise while simultaneously working to stretch your hamstrings.
How to do the Single Straight Leg Stretch:
This is a progression of the lying hamstring stretch we featured at the beginning of this list. If you have tight hamstrings, don't move on to this one until you've first mastered the bent-knee version.
How to do the Supine Hamstring Stretch:
This is a simple seated-on-the-floor option for stretching the hamstring. If you're finding that bending your leg in this position is challenging, try foam rolling the glutes and hip flexors first to see if it helps relax them.
How to do the Seated Hamstring Stretch:
The hamstring kickstand stretch is great for getting a deep hamstring stretch following a tough leg workout.
If you need extra support while shifting your hips, try performing this exercise with your hands resting on a desk or table, rather than your leg.
How to do the Standing Hamstring Kickstand Stretch:
Another more advanced exercise, the hip extension stretch works wonders for stretching the hamstring and glutes, all while activating your core.
As a bonus, it also serves as a glute activation exercise! Multi-tasking at its finest.
How to do the Hamstring & Hip Extension Stretch:
The simple bend over and touch your toes test is an easy way to test hamstring tightness. Keep an eye on how far you can go in this movement. If you can’t get anywhere close to your toes or are unable to keep your legs straight, your hamstrings are tight.
You can also keep an eye out for cramping, pain on the back of your thigh, bruising, or any other pain that might pop up in that area. In addition, if you regularly suffer from a chronically contracted hamstrings pull, it's a sign you've got tight hammies.
Stretching is, of course, a great way to relieve tight hamstrings. But it may take more than this to help lengthen them and reduce muscle tension.
If you are noticing improvement with specific methods or stretches, keep at those. If you have been stretching without improvement, you may need to strengthen or stretch some of the surrounding areas as well.
This will take some trial and error on your part, as there is no one size fits all approach.
There are plenty of reasons to start stretching your hamstrings. On top of these, stretching also just makes you feel really good. No one wants to walk around feeling tight all day!
When incorporating these into your workout split, try some dynamic stretches before your workout and on lower body days, add an extra 5-10 minutes post-workout for static stretches. Your best option is to do 1-2 stretches several times throughout the day.
Remember not to stretch too far or too fast. You want to stretch until you feel a mild stretch in the hamstrings and then hold for 15-30 seconds. Try to go slightly further into the stretch each time you perform it. Stretching is a cumulative effect that increases over time. Consistency is key.
For best results, utilize different stretching strategies before and after workouts. Here are our suggested routines to get you started:
Start by foam rolling your glutes, quads, hip flexors, and hamstrings. From here, move into a series of dynamic warm-up stretches.
When performing dynamic hamstring stretches, try 1-2 sets of 6-8 reps of exercises like inchworms, butt kicks, or single-leg airplanes. These dynamic movements help warm the hamstring for movement and don’t relax them like static stretches will.
You can try any of our stretches from the list we just went over, but instead of holding the stretch, treat them as dynamic reps where you try to go even a few centimeters farther on each one to help prepare the hamstrings for the movements ahead.
You'll focus on static stretching after working out. Pick 3-4 exercises from the above list that you feel confident about. Perform 3-4 sets, holding each for 15-30 seconds.
Remember, for each set you should aim to move into it a bit farther, but don't overdo it. Now that your workout is over and your muscles don’t need to be primed to move, these stretches should be used as a way to relax and lengthen your muscles without injuring yourself.
Lingering questions regarding hamstring tightness and stretching? Let's answer them!
Posture, muscle imbalances, and a lack of stretching can all cause tight hamstrings.
It depends on how tight they are and how much you’ve been training, but being consistent can produce results in as little as one month.
When stretching your hamstrings is extra painful, there is often a neurological aspect at play. Your brain tells your body it’s unsafe to perform that movement, so it locks up the hamstrings and low back as a way to protect itself. Stay consistent with gentle stretching, and your muscles will slowly loosen up over time.
Perform 2-3 sets of 15-30 second holds, focusing on deep breathing, and trying to relax the muscle.
Whatever progression you can best tolerate at first is the best stretch for you. Make sure to start with a stretch that isn’t painful and is one you can hold at moderate tension for 15-30 seconds.
The standing kickstand hamstring stretch is a great starter stretch.
Tight hamstrings are often directly caused by sitting, weak glutes, and tight hip flexors. Sitting less, stretching more, and strengthening hip flexors and glutes can help alleviate hamstring tightness.
Strengthening your glutes and hamstrings is just as important as hamstring stretching when it comes to alleviating lower body tightness and weakness. These glute isolation exercises and best hamstring exercises will help correct any muscle imbalances that may exist!
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