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Home > Stretches > Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring Stretch

hamstring muscles

Setup

  1. Though it’s not necessary to get a good hamstring stretch, ideally you should warm up your hamstrings prior to this hamstring stretch by doing 10 minutes of aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, running, elliptical, stair-climber) or by placing a moist electric heating pad on the hamstring muscles for 10 minutes.  This warm-up lessens the likelihood of injury via overstretching the hamstring muscles.
  2. Stand in front of an elevated surface with pelvis and shoulders square to that surface (e.g. a couch, chair, stool, windowsill, railing).
  3. Ensure that the foot of the non-stretching leg is pointed straight ahead.

Execution

  1. Place one leg on the surface, knee straight (remember that foot of non-stretching leg should be pointed straight ahead), hips and shoulders square to surface.
  2. Point the toes of the stretching leg straight up in the left/right plane.  You don’t have to pull your toes back toward you during the hamstring stretch by contracting your shin muscles, though doing so during the hamstring stretch will stretch your calf simultaneously.
  3. Lean forward from the hips until a gentle hamstring stretch is felt on the underside of the thigh.
  4. Once a gentle hamstring stretch is felt on the underside of the thigh, hold this position for 30 seconds for a bilateral hamstring stretch OR:

standing hamstring stretch best

Semitendinosus Stretch
(inside of hamstring, closer to groin)
After a gentle hamstring stretch is felt, rotate the angle of your foot in the left/right plane to the outside, away from your other leg, such that your big toe is pointing 45 degrees to the outside, or as far as it will go until a gentle hamstring stretch is felt.  Pay attention to how the stretch in your hamstring isolates to the inside of the hamstring (closer to your groin).Biceps Femoris Muscle

Biceps Femoris Stretch
(outside of hamstring)
After a gentle hamstring stretch is felt, rotate the angle of your foot in the left/right plane to the inside, towards your other leg, such that your big toe is pointing 45 degrees to the inside, or as far as it will go until a gentle hamstring stretch is felt.  Pay attention to how the stretch in your hamstring isolates to the outside (lateral) of the hamstring.

Tips

  1. Your planted foot must be pointing straight forward in both of these stretches, and your hips/pelvis must also be pointed straight forward. If you allow your planted foot to point to the outside or let your pelvis drop back on one side, this turns into a groin stretch, not a hamstring stretch.
  2. You may or may not wish to allow your back to round during this hamstring stretch, depending on what’s comfortable, though many people will tell you that allowing your back to round (i.e. bending over) during a hamstring stretch puts too much pressure on Semitendinosus Musclethe intervertebral discs in your spine.  At any rate, the hamstring stretch will be felt sooner if you keep a straight back.
  3. If you’re doing this hamstring stretch without shoes on, look for a soft surface that won’t hurt your heel.
  4. What you do with your arms during this hamstring stretch doesn’t really matter, though placing both hands on the knee of the outstretched leg will provide for easier balancing during the hamstring stretch.

Background

Lower Back Pain.  Many experts seem to think that overly tight hamstrings are a cause of lower back pain.  I, for one, never got any relief from my back pain despite months of stretching my hamstrings, but that doesn’t mean you won’t.  Apparently males are much more likely to have tight hamstrings then females.  In my opinion, it’s possible that instead of directly causing lower back pain, tight hamstring muscles indirectly cause lower back pain by first contributing to posterior pelvic tilt (i.e. “flat back”).

Hamstring Injury.  If you arrived at this page because of a hamstring injury incurred while playing a sport, I highly recommend you do some research before committing to a hamstring stretching regimen.  One of my physical therapists told me that the best thing you can do for someone who is prone to hamstring injury is to activate (i.e. fix the neural recruitment pattern, or, in layman’s terms, teach your brain to use the muscle again) and strengthen the gluteals.  Many hamstring injuries, he said, are caused by overreliance on the lumbar erectors and the hamstrings, and under-reliance on the gluteal muscles.  Hamstring stretching can be counterproductive for someone prone to hamstring pulls because hamstring stretches can stretch the hamstring facsia too long, thereby decreasing the hamstring’s natural springiness and thus its reaction time.

Biceps Femoris Test.  One of my physical therapists taught me an easy and quick way to see if your biceps femoris (outside of hamstring) is way too tight.  While seated in a chair simply cross one leg over the other such that your ankle is resting on your opposite knee.  If you feel any discomfort in your knee (the knee of the leg that’s now horizontal), especially on the outside of your knee near the bony prominence, your biceps femoris is way too tight.  If this is the case, you should do the biceps femoris stretch detailed above until you can cross your leg without pain.

Other Hamstring Stretches.  Aside from the standing hamstring stretch with an elevated foot detailed above, there are numerous other ways to stretch your hamstrings.

  1. Standing, half-bent over with toes elevated hamstring stretch
  2. Standing, fully bent over hamstring stretch
  3. Seated, erect back hamstring stretch
  4. Seated, slouched back hamstring stretch
  5. Lying with rope/band hamstring stretch
  6. Kneeling hamstring stretch

Interestingly, one source I read attributed the modern deskjockey’s tight, weak hamstrings (and very weak, inhibited gluteals) to wearing comfortable shoes.  He postulated that walking/running barefoot recruits the gluteal muscles more and the hamstring muscles less, contributing to overall biomechanical integrity. 

References

  1. Hamstring Strain @ SportsInjuryClinic.net
  2. Common Postural Deficiencies @ Exrx.net
  3. Bruce Thomson @ EasyVigour.net.nz
  4. Semitendinosus & Biceps Femoris muscles @ Wikipedia.org

Last Updated: 9/5/2010
Originally Posted: 9/8/2008