Whether from exercise, or even more commonly, from sitting at a desk all day, tight hamstrings are a common issue. Stretching these muscles out is important because they affect the lower back, knees, and hips; tight hamstrings can possibly lead to injury while doing physical activity, or even problems that don’t arise until later such as back and knee pain.
To keep yourself in the best shape, stretching is an essential and often neglected part of an exercise program. We have five experts weigh in with their recommendations on the best stretches to keep your hamstrings from feeling tight.
The hamstrings are a tricky muscle because the tightness of your hamstrings is likely affected by hip positioning and musculature. With that said, to directly target the hamstrings, I like to stretch them out while standing up and extending one leg out on a platform, or ideally, a bar that is around chest height for a deeper stretch. Stretching your hamstrings while standing up is dynamic because you can alter the toe position of your back foot, which changes the stretch. In addition, a simple way to make the stretch more intense is to slowly twist your body in the direction of the extended leg while reaching with the opposite arm. For example, if you are standing with your right leg extended, you can reach toward your foot with your left hand while twisting your body to the right. Like any static stretch, do this under control.
– Marc Perry ,CSCS, CPT
Downward facing dog, or a supine hamstring stretch. I like down dog because you can make the stretch dynamic by moving through a few vinyasas. Start in a high plank on your hands and toes. Without moving your hands or feet, just press your hips back towards the wall behind you as you lengthen your heels to the ground. Try not to round your spine. Reach your tailbone to the sky and take nice deep breaths. Inhale forward to a plank, exhale press back to down dog. Breathe into it and you’ll find more length.
Strengthening your anterior core (deep abs musculature) and getting your glute muscles to fire correctly are probably my favorite method for “stretching the hamstrings.” Hamstrings are usually too tight for a variety of reasons, but most people that sit all day have “tight hamstrings” because they are sitting in a rounded position for hours on end, while simultaneously not truly activating their glutes while working out. This causes their hamstrings to take on a brunt of the work that they weren’t intended to handle. By getting people to work their butt muscles more, while strengthening the anterior core, you allow the pressure to be taken off the hamstrings and back onto the core musculature and glutes, where it belongs.
I like to use a triplanar stretch when targeting the hamstring group. I have found that the easiest one to perform is done using a yoga strap or belt. Lie on your back and loop one end of the strap around one of your feet. Keeping both knees locked and your toes back towards your head, pull the band back until you feel a stretch through your calf and hamstring. Hold this position for 20 seconds then move the leg outside your body making sure to keep your back flat. Hold for another 20 seconds. Finally, move the leg across your body. It is important to keep your butt flat on the ground. Hold for another 20 seconds then switch legs and repeat.
There are a couple schools of thought when stretching the hamstrings: relieving tension or that tight feeling when you bend down to touch your toes, and achieving true “length” in your hamstring muscles. I’m not the biggest believer in just tugging on hamstrings to achieve either thought process, but I do believe in repositioning the pelvis in order to achieve both.
We can first relieve the tonicity of the hamstring muscle group by relieving what is often called anterior pelvic tilt. We can accomplish this through a number of different methods – whatever you choose is entirely up to you. If that doesn’t clean up the malady, then perhaps we truly have “short” muscles, not just tight ones. And in this case, I would recommend simply laying on your back, grabbing a rope or band, wrapping it around your foot, and hoist your leg straight in the air until you feel tension. Hold for a lengthy duration!