11 Stretches To Lengthen The Hamstrings

lengthen hamstrings

Need to lengthen those hamstrings? Relieve tension and gain more agility. Then try out our 11 stretches for supple hamstrings.

The Superficial Back Line

lengthen hamstrings

The hamstrings are part of the superficial backline. The superficial backline runs from the top of the eyebrow all the way down your back into the tips of your toes.

When the hamstrings are tight you may find that the muscles along the spine or that in contact with the hamstrings may also be tight or painful since they are all connected.

Many of the stretches in this program will focus on lengthening the hamstrings and the entire superficial backline. That way we can get your body back into harmony.

One thing to note is that if your superficial backline is tight your superficial front line will be weakened. You will also need to strengthen the front line as part of your training program so that your body can function in harmony.

Muscles of the hamstrings

The hamstrings are made up of three main muscles the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and the bicep femoris. The semimembranosus is used during running performing the function of slowing down the speed to stationary.

When this muscle is tight you can get lower back pain and pain behind her knee. If the bicep femoris is tight it can restrict your stride length when walking or running.

I personally saw a client last week that could barely walk due to the tension in his hamstrings. If you don’t look after your body it will continue to tell you that it needs attention through pain and restricted range of motion (ROM).

What is the cause of tight hamstrings?

There are many ways the hamstrings can become tight. Running is one of the major sporting contributors to tight hamstrings. A sedentary lifestyle and imbalances in the pelvis can also affect the hamstrings.

Tight hamstrings may be more prone to strain or tearing. There’s also a big difference between tightness in the hamstrings and injury. If you feel pain in your hamstring, it’s best to see a doctor before attempting to treat your injury at home.

Hamstring injuries can take a long time to heal and you definitely do not want to aggravate it. I personally pulled my hamstring in October and four months later I am nowhere near close to my hamstring functioning as well as it did in the past.

Symptoms of an Injured Hamstring

Tearing sensation

A torn hamstring may make a ripping or popping noise. If this happens you need to immediately see your doctor as you may require surgery.

Stiffness

Stiffness can occur in the hamstrings as the body’s natural self-defense mechanism to restrict the range of motion.

Leg pain

Severe leg pain that interferes with day to day activities or referral pain such as shooting pain into the glues.

Swelling

The swelling will occur a few hours after the injured hamstring. The best mode of immediate treatment is to rest and elevate the leg and apply a cold compress to help with the inflammation.

Bruising

While bruising is not very common it can happen. The best treatment for bruising is arnica creme or if you are in Australia Herodiod creme. You can also apply a cold compress to help with the swelling.

Knee pain

Because the hamstrings are responsible for flexion and extension of the knee when the hamstring is torn it can inhibit this movement.

How can I lengthen my hamstrings fast?

lengthen hamstrings

The group of muscles that make up the hamstrings are large. It is important to take your time and have patience when stretching the hamstrings. Pushing it too far or too fast can lead to pulling your hamstring.

I did not follow my own advice and I pulled my right hamstring. It has been four months since my injury and it is still painful when I stretch and greatly lack the range of motion. My leg is stiff and it’s painful when I try to lengthen hamstring. At this rate, it may take a year to get to where I was.

The moral of the story is, there is no way to make any muscles flexible fast. You need to be consistent and patient.

How long does it take to loosen tight muscles?

You can gain some relief from lengthening hamstrings during the first initial stretching session. Although it will be short-lived. That is why you need to commit to a regular stretching program.

How long does it take to improve hamstring flexibility?

In a study that implemented a 4-week passive stretch protocol of the calf, they found positive changes in increased range of motion from stretching. This occurred though when they consistently stretched 3 times a week (Nakamura M, 2017)

To sum it up if you stretch three times a week for four weeks you will see an improvement in the flexibility of your hamstrings. This is called a Mesocycle being a three to four week period of stretching. Imagine if you did an entire macrocycle being 1 year how your flexibility can change.

After learning this information I implemented it into my own splits practice which is a large portion that is hamstring flexibility. I started with a basic split and ended up with an oversplit in less than 3 weeks.

lengthen hamstrings

When You Shouldn’t Stretch Your Hamstrings

If you have anterior pelvic tilt you should stay off stretching your hamstrings. Whenever we have tightness on one side of the body the other side lengthens to compensate.

When you have tight quads, hip flexors and psoas the front of the leg tightens and shortens. This means the back of the body lengthens. Further lengthening the hamstrings will continue to create a larger imbalance leading to more discomfort and pain.

Many people try and stretch their hamstrings because of the sciatic nerve believing it is the perpetrator. Instead, it is actually the glutes and hips that are creating the discomfort.

How do you get rid of muscle tightness?

  • Stretching
  • Exercising
  • Performing ROM drills
  • Hot and Cold packs
  • Massage
  • Hypervolt

Beginner Yoga Stretches For The Hamstrings

Supine Hamstring Stretch

Dynamic FLexibility

How To:

  • Laying on your back bend one knee and bring the foot to the glute.
  • Extended the leg and grab the calf or foot.
  • If you can’t reach you can use a strap.
  • Gently draw the foot towards the face.

Forward Fold

lengthen hamstrings

How To:

  1. Exhale fold forward bend your spine 
  2. Relax the back of your neck relax through your lower back 
  3. Breathe into the back of your body, 
  4. Be active through your thighs bring your knee caps up the legs 
  5. Gently firm your abdominals to draw yourself down deeper.
  6. Inhale flat back half lift, straight spine extend over the hips, shoulders back, exhale bend the Knees place your hands flat on floor and step or jump back into high plank. 

Uttanasasna – forward standing bend

lengthen hamstrings

How To:

  1. Exhale fold forward bend your spine 
  2. Relax the back of your neck relax through your lower back 
  3. Breathe into the back of your body, 
  4. Be active through your thighs bring your knee caps up the legs 
  5. Gently firm your abdominals to draw yourself down deeper.
  6. Inhale flat back half lift, straight spine extend over the hips, shoulders back, exhale bend the Knees place your hands flat on floor and step or jump back into high plank. 

Prasarita padottanasana wide-angle forward standing bend

lengthen hamstrings

How To:

  1. Inhale jump the hands and feet out nice and wide
  2. Inhale take your hands to your hips
  3. Toes turn in
  4. Lift your spine and heart out of the pelvis
  5. Exhale
  6. Bend forward with a flat back
  7. Palms flat to the floor
  8. Hands shoulder-width apart
  9. Fingertips in line with the toes
  10. Inhale flat back straight spine
  11. Arms straight looking ahead shoulders back 
  12.  Exhale bend your spine and work your crown towards the earth
  13. Draw your kneecaps up the thighs 
  14. Keep pressing down through the toes and the balls of the feet
  15. Press out through the heels stretching 
  16. Breathe into your lower back
  17. Breathe into the back of your 
  18. Inhale half lift 
  19. Flatback straighten 
  20. Squeeze your big toe with your thumb-index finger
  21. Inhale flat back
  22. Pull your heart up and away
  23. Exhale, bend your elbows wide
  24. Work the crown of the head towards the earth
  25. Inhale straight spine
  26. Hands to hips
  27. Inhale push the hips forward and bring the spine up

Intermediate Yoga Stretches For The Hamstrings

Padahastaasana 

  1. Inhale flat back straight spine
  2. Sweep your hands all the way under the feet so that your toes come to your wrists
  3. Inhale flat back straight spine
  4. Exhale bend the elbows wide 
  5. Bend your spine
  6. Work the crown of the head to the earth
  7. Draw the knee caps up the thighs and breathe into the lower back
  8. Relax the head and the neck
  9. Hold for 5 breaths
  10. Inhale flat back straight spine
  11. Pull your heart up and away
  12. Release the hands to hips
  13. Exhale push the hips forward straighten the spine

Pyramid Pose

how to lengthen hamstrings - Pyramid pose

How To:

  1. From a downward dog.
  2. Turn the right foot out slightly, step the left foot forward so that your stance is wide yet comfortable. Around three feet apart. 
  3. Ensure your hips are square and facing forward.
  4. Straighten the left knee.
  5. Sit here for a few breaths. 
  6. Inhale lift the chest and look forward.
  7. Exhale bend down towards the chin.
  8. Bring the arms behind the back and hold onto the forearms.
  9. Connect with your breath and balance. 
  10. Inhale lift the chest and look forward.
  11. Exhale bend forward.
  12. Inhale breathe into the backs of the legs. 
  13. Bring your palm back flat onto the mat
  14. Bring the left leg back to your downward dog. 

Advanced Yoga Stretches For The Hamstrings

Urdhva prasarita eka padasana Standing forward splits

lengthen hamstrings
  1. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart
  2. Take your hands to your hips
  3. Exhale bend forward from your hips
  4. Place both hands on the floor in front of you 
  5. Shift the weight slightly into the left leg
  6. Raise your left leg into the sky
  7. Allow your torso to food forward and down bending the spine 
  8. Keep your toes raised and pointed 
  9. Internally rotate your thigh to keep the pelvis parallel to the floor
  10. Focus on directing equal energy into both legs
  11. Keep the thigh off the standing leg
  12. Chin to shin
  13. Stay in the pose for 5-10 breaths or as long as comfortable 
  14. Release the top leg down to the floor
  15. On the inhale pull your heart up to flat back
  16. Exhale food forward 
  17. repeat on the other side

Krounchasana Heron Pose

lengthen hamstrings

How To:

  1. Begin seated with your legs in front of you.
  2. Bend your right knee into Hero pose (Virasana).
  3. The right shin is resting on the floor and the heel of the right foot is beside the right hip.
  4. Move the calf out towards the outer side of the leg with your hands.
  5. Ensure that the toes of your right foot are pointing straight back and that your thighs are parallel to one another (i.e. the right knee isn’t bowing out to the side).
  6. Without bending your back raise the front leg until you can reach it with a flat back.
  7. If this is too advanced use a yoga strap.

Halasana Plow Pose

lengthen hamstrings

How To:

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. Palms by your side facing down.
  3. Pull your shoulders away from the ears.
  4. Drawing the shoulder blades down the back.
  5. Keep legs straight and feet together.
  6. Using the abdominal muscles lift the legs over the head.
  7. Keep the legs straight with the feet together.
  8. Using the abdominal muscles. 
  9. Lift the legs over the head in a straight line until the toes touch the floor behind the head.
  10. Keep your neck straight and gaze upward.
  11. Interlace the fingers behind your back and straighten the arms.
  12. Draw your shoulders and arms away from the ears.
  13. Once your in this position do not turn your neck.
  14. Keep the neck straight and gaze towards the navel or close your eyes.

Deafmans Pose

How To:

  • From plow pose.
  • Simply bend the knees.
  • And let them drop beside your ears.
  • If you can give your body a big hug around the hamstrings.

Yoga Poses For Hamstring Strength & Flexibility

Padagusthasana hand to toe pose

  1. Hands to hips
  2. Jump the feet hip-distance apart
  3. Draw your knee caps up 
  4. Exhale and bend forward from your hips
  5. Slide your index and middle fingers between the big and second toes
  6. Curl the fingers under and grip the big toes firmly wrapping the thumbs to secure
  7. Press your toes down against your fingers
  8. Inhale heart to the sky
  9. Exhale bend your elbows out to the side
  10. Pull-on your toes
  11. Relax your head and neck
  12. We will be here for 5 breaths
  13. Breathe into the lower back
  14. With each breath try and get the crown closer to the toes
  15. Keep the hands where they are 
  16. inhale half lift flat back
  17. Straight spine
  18. Ease the hands to hips
  19. Exhale bring the spine and heart up. 

Kurmasana Tortoiseshell pose

  1. Sit up straight with the legs outstretched.
  2. Separate feet as wide as comfortable.
  3. Lean forward from hips. 
  4. Walk the hands forward and work the chest towards the earth.
  5. Bend through the right leg.
  6. Sweep the right elbow beneath the right knee.
  7. Do the same on the left side.
  8. Push your heels out.
  9. Work on straightening the legs.
  10. Draw the chest to the floor.
  11. Bend through the knees.
  12. Rotate palms up to the sky and pull the arms out.
  13. Press down on your hands.
  14. Bring the spine up. 

Exercises To Strengthen Hamstrings

Hamstring curls

  • Place your stretch band on the leg of a lounge or a bed.
  • Place the heel inside of the band.
  • Laying down on your stomach.
  • Bend the knee and draw your foot towards the glutes.

How to prevent the hamstrings from being tight

  • Ensure that you warm-up before exercising. Squats, jumping jacks and high knees all warm the body up fast. Make sure that you warm-up for ten minutes before going into your exercise routine. Once the body is warm do a short stretch to lengthen hamstrings for a maximum of 30 seconds. Stretching any longer before training can have adverse effects.
  • Ensure that you practice a proper cool down. This consists of at least ten minutes of stretching after your exercise. Spend a little more time on the hamstrings if they are the dominant tight muscle.
  • Keep your body in alignment. This means strengthening weak areas and stretching tight areas.

What is the best natural muscle relaxer?

A hot compress. When we apply a hot compress we improve the blood flow to tissues. This helps to reduce the pain of DOMS delayed muscle onset. You can also apply hot and cold compresses. Apply the heat first to relax the muscle and then the cold compress in order to reduce swelling and inflammation.

Don’t be concerned if you end up having DOMS after a heavy stretching session of lengthening hamstrings. It can be normal because we have new blood and oxygen pumping through the muscles. Make sure you don’t meet any criteria of the strained hamstring.

I hope you enjoyed my guide to lengthen the hamstrings. I have heel stretch on my to nail list so I’ll be using a lot of these poses too.

Stay Limber,

Vanessa Barthelmes.

Check out my flexibility classes and online coaching.

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