The hamstring muscles are found in the back of your thigh. They are usually neglected in exercise regimens and often people don't realize they have tight hamstrings until their movement is affected or when they begin to suffer knee pain or back pain.
You can tell that your hamstrings are tight by doing the following tests:
Chair Sit and Reach Test:
- Sit forward on the edge of a chair.
- Keep left leg bent with foot flat on the floor, right leg extended in front.
- Keeping back and head aligned straight, reach down the extended leg.
- Try to touch the toes of the right extended leg with both hands
- If you cannot reach your toes you have tight hamstrings
Straight Leg Raise:
- Lie on your back with your legs extended
- Lift your right leg without bending your knees.
- If you can lift it up to 70-80 degrees of elevation or up to 90 degrees then your hamstrings are alright.
- If you can lift up less than 70-80 degrees then you have tight hamstrings.
Alternate Leg Raises - Warm Up
What Are Hamstring Muscles?
The hamstring muscles are made up of a group of three muscles consisting of the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and bicep femoris. It is a 'postural muscle' and is used to hold an upright posture. It is made up of mostly slow twitch muscle fibres and is designed to contract for long periods without fatiguing. This characteristic makes them prone to shortening over time unless stretched on a regular basis. The hamstrings cross over both the hip and knee joints and so are used in both hip and knee movements.
Our modern lifestyle of sitting long hours at an office desk contributes to the tightness of hamstrings. Sitting maintains our hip muscles in a lengthened state causing them to become weak. This puts extra strain on the hamstrings when standing making them work harder.
Tight hamstrings are also a cause of many back injuries since in most people they become tight through disuse. It is important to consult a doctor so that any serious causes of tight hamstrings can be ruled out such as spondylolithesis, or tumours.
How to Stretch Your Hamstrings - Static Stretch
Dynamic Hamstring Stretch
Yoga for Hamstrings (7.55 mts)
How to Stretch the Hamstrings
There are two ways to stretch the hamstrings using the dynamic or the static stretching exercises. Both methods will increase flexibility. If you are planning to increase the length of your hamstrings for a yoga program, dancing, running hurdles, etc. then static stretching has been found to be most effective. A 30 second static stretch has been found to be more effective than 30 seconds of dynamic stretching, especially done over 6 weeks.
Dynamic stretching is most appropriate as part of a complete warm up before any exercise or yoga program. It can be done as part of the program as well and will help improve flexibility of the hamstrings as well.
- Static Stretching: is the 'stretch and hold' type of stretching which is safe and is used to increase the range of motion of a joint.
- Dynamic Stretching: is a combination of strength and flexibility. It 'is the act of taking a muscle to the end of its range and then rather than holding the stretch contracting the muscle that is being stretched.'
Yoga for Tight Hamstrings
Practicing Yoga poses would come under the category of static stretching for loosening and improving the flexibility of the hamstrings. Many of the yoga poses for hips will also help in stretching the hamstrings since these muscles work together in the various movements.
Static stretch is the 'stretch and hold' type of stretching which is the method followed in yoga asana or poses. It is safe and is used to increase the range of motion of a joint or muscle. This type of stretching exercises are just as important to overall fitness as strengthening and endurance exercises. Having flexible hamstrings means less chances of injury during activities like running, jumping, cycling and other sports.
Sitting Forward Bend
Downward Dog for Stretching the Hamstring Muscles
Three Yoga Poses for Hamstring Muscles
These three Yoga poses for improving flexibility of tight hamstrings are ideal to begin with
Sitting Forward Bend – Paschimottanasana
This a good pose for stretching the entire back and hamstring muscles and increases flexibility in the spine and hips.
- Sit with your spine extended.
- Lean forward, tipping your pelvis towards your thighs.
- Bend your knees, and on an inhalation, reach down and hold onto your shin, ankle, or the balls of your feet.
- Exhale and begin to straighten your legs, bringing your upper body toward your thighs. Your back is straight and spine is lengthened. Knees remain slightly bent.
- Breathe rhythmically. Do not strain.
- Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Bent Knee Sitting Forward Bend – Mahamudra
This is the easier version of the Sitting Forward Bend (above) which produces similar benefits. It stretches the hamstring muscles and the spinal column. In this case one leg is bent and other stretched out. Instead of leaning forward the arms are raised above the head and then bringing the palms down to reach the ankle or back of the feet.
Downward Dog – Adho Mukhasana
This yoga pose stretches and lengthens the hamstring muscles and Achilles tendons as well as increasing flexibility in the ankles. It is an energizing pose and aligns the spinal column, releases tension in the shoulders, and strengthens the arms and legs.
Yoga poses for the spine, hips, and legs are also beneficial in maintaining overall strength of the muscles of the legs and especially hamstrings.
Taking Care of the Hamstrings
It is important to remember "use it or lose it," or in this case "stretch it or lose it." The hamstring muscles have to be stretched regularly and throughout your life because they play a very important role in the overall well-being of the body. Weak or tight hamstrings can cause many injuries while being involved with daily life activities or sport activities. Making sure they are in good condition will help improve performance in sport activities or just in maintaining good posture throughout life.
Helpful Articles on Tight Hamstrings
- Tight hamstrings will affect posture, movement, and function.
Addressing tight hamstrings is one of the most important way to prevent injury.
- Hamstring Stretches - your source of information for lengthening those hamstring
Hamstring stretches - Stretching tight hamstrings sometimes seems like a full time job and recurring hamstring injuries are a common source of frustration for many athletes.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Sushma Webber (author) from New Zealand on February 22, 2014:
Hi Kayla, it is true that in the gym they may not specifically do hamstring stretches. It is usually overlooked. It would be a good idea to do it at home because as you grow older, whether you are fat or skinny, those muscles will tighten.
Kayla on February 21, 2014:
I go gymnastics and we never do them streches an my mum goes gym no stretches their either so you little fiber. Just cause your all fat ,boys doesn't mean I am cause I am skinny and fit.