Tight hamstrings are a common problem for many people. If your hamstrings are tight, or if you have suffered an injury to your hamstrings—like a muscle strain—you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist to help you recover. Your PT can teach you hamstring stretching exercises, like the ones in this hamstring stretching program, to help you improve overall hamstring flexibility.
Why Should You Stretch Your Hamstrings?
The hamstring muscle group is located in the back of your thigh and is responsible for bending or flexing your knee. Since the hamstrings also cross your hip joint in the back of your thigh, they also serve to help your gluteal muscles extend your leg during activities like running and walking. While research continues to evaluate the effectiveness of stretching, some reasons that people work so diligently on hamstring flexibility may include:
- Preventing injury
- Preventing or treating low back pain
- Improve overall mobility. Maintaining mobility in your legs and thighs can also help you maintain optimal athletic performance.
- Stretching the hamstrings after athletic activity can help decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in these muscles.
A general hamstring flexibility program can improve the way your hammy’s move. Before starting this, or any other exercise program, check in with your doctor to ensure that exercise is safe for you to do.
If you feel any pain or abnormal sensations in your hip, thigh, or lower leg, that is also reason to check in with your doctor.
The Simple Hamstring Stretch
Let’s get started with this simple hamstring stretch. If you have low back pain or sciatica, this exercise may place a strain on your back, so proceed with caution.
- Sit on the floor with both legs out straight.
- Extend your arms and reach forward by bending at the waist as far as possible while keeping your knees straight.
- Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Relax back into the starting position.
- Repeat three times.
Be sure to stretch until a gentle pull is felt in the back of your thighs. If you feel any excessive pain, you should stop the exercise.
The Hurdler Hamstring Stretch
The hurdler hamstring stretch is a simple exercise that can be done right on the floor.
- Sit on the floor with one leg out straight.
- Bend the other leg at the knee and position the sole of that foot against your opposite inner thigh.
- Extend your arms and reach forward over the one straight leg by bending at the waist as far as possible.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds.
- Repeat with the other leg.
Standing Hamstring Stretch (Both Legs at Once)
The next hamstring stretch is a simple one to do anywhere at all. It is done in the standing position and stretches both legs at once. Here is how you do the standing hamstring stretch:
- Stand and cross your right foot in front of your left.
- Slowly lower your forehead to your right knee by bending at the waist.
- Keep both knees straight.
- Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat for the other side by crossing your left foot in front of your right.
Standing Hamstring Stretch (One Leg at a Time)
The one-legged standing hamstring stretch is quite possibly the easiest hamstring stretch to do. It can be done anywhere—home, office, or outdoors—and it requires no special tools. Here is how you do it:
- Stand up straight with one heel resting on a small stack of books or stool. If you are outside, you can use the curb, but be sure to watch for cars.
- Keep your knee straight.
- Reach both arms up toward the place where the wall and ceiling meet. If you are outside and there is no wall or ceiling, simply reach up into the air so your arms are about even with your ears. Reaching your arms up, as opposed to reaching down toward your foot, will keep your back straight.
- Keep your back straight. You should be bending forward slightly from your hips.
- Reach forward and feel a stretch in your hamstring behind your thigh.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat three times.
- Switch legs and repeat with the other leg.
The Runner’s Hamstring and Calf Stretch
The runner’s stretch is a common flexibility exercise for your hamstrings or calf muscles.
- Stand one foot from a wall and place your hands on the wall at shoulder height, shoulder-width apart.
- Take a step back with one leg while pushing into the wall.
- Keep your back straight and press your heels into the floor.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Step forward and repeat with the other leg.
- Repeat the exercise three times on each side.
The Towel Hamstring Stretch
Your PT may teach you to use household items to perform your stretching exercises, and most folks have towels to perform their towel stretches, although you can use a strap or belt instead.
The towel hamstring stretch is a simple one to do. Here’s how:
- Lie on the floor on your back.
- Loop a long bath towel around your toes and hold the ends of the towel in both hands.
- Slowly pull on the towel to lift your straight leg up. Be sure to keep your knee straight. The leg without the towel should remain flat on the ground.
- Bring your leg up until a stretch is felt behind your thigh. You may also feel a stretch behind your lower leg in your calf. This is normal.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, and then relax.
- Repeat three to five times on each leg.
Remember that the towel hamstring stretch should feel good as you are doing the exercise; if it causes pain, stop immediately and check in with your physical therapist.