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Everything You Need To Know About Stretching Your Hamstrings

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Sitting for long hours shortens hamstring muscles. This along with weak abdominal muscles causes an anterior pelvic tilt which further stiffens the hamstrings. Warm up and hold short stretches repeatedly to increase hamstring flexibility. Stretch interconnected calf and hip muscles. Practise standing, floor and foam exercises to increase your hamstring flexibility.

Hamstrings – the muscles in the back of your thighs. Most people have tight and weak hamstrings – even those who do squats frequently. You see, squats mainly work the quadriceps, but do not activate the hamstrings as much.

Hamstrings have a huge effect on the body – more than you may think. They determine things like posture, athletic performance, overall strength and injury risk. So, it is necessary to have strong and flexible hamstrings.

In fact, tight hamstrings are known to cause pain in the lower back. Since hamstrings attach to the pelvis, when they tighten, the pelvis tilts and this causes the lumber spine (lower back) to be arched. Now, to avoid all these possible problems you should strengthen and stretch the hamstrings.

And do not assume that you are naturally stiff because you can not touch your toes when you bend. Most of the people you see doing splits are not naturally flexible. Flexibility is attained through practice and frequent stretching. First, let us look into why many people have tight hamstrings.

Why Do Hamstrings Get Tight?

1. Sitting For Long Hours

Sitting down all day is the number one reason for tight hamstrings. These muscles usually shorten when we sit down. So if they are in a shortened position every day, they will eventually become tight.

In my article about bad posture, I mentioned how sitting can also distort upper body posture. So you have to reverse the many negative effects of sitting, if you sit for long hours.

2. Anterior Pelvic Tilt

This is when the front of the pelvis tilts back and back of the pelvis rises. The common causes of this are weak abdominal muscles and long hours of sitting.

Realize that some degree of pelvic tilt is normal in humans. And women have more anterior pelvic tilt than men. But, extreme cases can tighten the hamstrings, distort posture and cause back pain.

Common indicators of an anterior pelvic tilt are arched back and hips leaning forward. Gladly, it can be fixed by strengthening the abdominal muscles and doing exercises like the glute bridges.

3. Previous Hamstring Injuries

If you have ever experienced a muscle strain before, those muscle tissues may not have recovered to their full length. Frankly, your hamstrings may not be too tight to do much damage, especially if you exercise, but you will definitely benefit from improving their flexibility.

Stretching – Dos and Donts

Before I share the hamstring stretching techniques with you – here are stretching rules you should stick to, according to Jarlo from gold medal bodies:

1. Do Not Hold Static Stretches For More Than 30 Seconds

Studies show that there are no additional benefits to holding static stretches for more than 15–30 seconds. Instead of holding the stretch for long, hold shorter stretches several times. I may note that longer holds are beneficial in some situations, but they are not necessary when you are trying to loosen the hamstrings.

 2. Do Not Force Stretches

While it is a good idea to push yourself during training, but it is a totally different case when it comes to stretching. Muscles usually become tense and resist movement when they are forced to stretch. And pushing them further can cause injury.

Instead, do the same stretch several times – each time stretching a little further than before. In no time, you will be able to stretch deep without feeling pain.

3. Stretch Related Muscles

The hamstrings cross from the hips to the knees. And as I mentioned earlier, the hamstring tightness can be caused other parts – like the pelvis. Therefore, stretching the calf and hip muscles can also loosen tight hamstrings.

4. Warm Up Before Doing Static Stretching

Have you ever noticed it is harder to do simple stretches when you have not warmed up? Doing light exercises like squats and jumping jacks will get your blood flowing and make it easier to stretch.

5. Use One Flexibility Method At A Time

As you will see later, you can stretch your hamstrings using foam rollers, tables and so on. Even though these different methods work, use one stretch technique at a time. That way you will be able to know what works for you and stick to it.

Exercises For Stretching Your Hamstrings

1. Standing Hamstring Stretches

As the name suggests, you will perform this exercise while standing.

To perform:

  • Place one foot on a high surface – the height of the surface will depend on your flexibility. If your hamstrings are too tight, use a low platform about your knee-height, then use higher surfaces as you become more flexible.
  • Once you place the foot on the surface, press it with your arms to straighten it if it isn’t extended fully.
  • Hold that position for 15 to 20 seconds, then switch legs.
  • You can make the stretch more intense by reaching the toes of the extended leg with the opposite arm.

See demonstration video

2. Floor Hamstring Stretch

To perform:

  • Sit on the floor with one knee bent sideways – such that your toes touch the inner thighs of the opposite foot.
  • Then straighten the opposite on the floor and try to keep your back flat and stick your chest out.
  • Touch the toes of the stretched foot with the opposite arm to stretch the hamstrings fully.

See demonstration video

3. Reclined Hamstring Stretch

To perform:

  • Lie flat on your back, and then raise one foot high while keeping the butt on the floor.
  • Keep the raised foot straight, then grab its thighs with both arms and pull it towards the chest. Pull it as deep as you can and hold that position.
  • After 15-30 seconds return the foot to starting position and switch legs. Do this several times for each leg.

See demonstration video

4. Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is one of the most effective ways to reduce muscle tension. It will deeply massage the hamstrings and loosen them.

To perform:

  • Place the foam roller on the floor then rest both your hamstrings on it. Place your hands on the floor, behind you and keep your back straight.
  • Then slowly roll up and down the foam roller – keep the feet straight throughout.
  • Keep going even if you feel slight pain, but if the pain is severe, stop. Roll for 30 seconds and repeat several times.
  • If you are experienced with foam rolling, you can stretch one leg at a time.

See demonstration video

Brian Syuki

Brian Syuki is a fitness expert who teaches people how to get leaner and healthier using bodyweight exercises and proper nutrition.

Brian Syuki

Brian Syuki is a fitness expert who teaches people how to get leaner and healthier using bodyweight exercises and proper nutrition.