For most of us when we think flexibility we automatically think of the hamstrings and for good reason too. Our hamstrings play a major role not only in the stretching of our forward folds but in the stability and mobility of our pelvis. While it is very important to create length in your hamstrings it is just as important to strengthen (good news runners) those muscles in order to prevent injuries.
Let’s take a quick look at what the hamstrings are and the role they play in your body.
The hamstring is made up of 3 muscles: the Biceps Femoris muscle, the Semitendinosus muscle, and the Semimembranosus muscle. Each of these muscles attaches to the pelvic muscles and runs the length of the back of the femur wrapping to attach to the tibia (shin bone). The hamstring is recognized in two major movements of the body: knee extension (heel toward glute) and hip flexion (moving the leg toward the rear – as in winding up to kick a soccer ball with the tip of your toe).
Tight hamstrings have larger implications then not being able to touch our toes. Lack of flexibility in the hamstrings can lead to flattening of the lumbar spine, causing lower back pain. As mentioned earlier a lack of flexibility of the hamstrings also affects the mobility and stability of the hips which can ultimately cause pain in the knee joints due to improper alignment.
It is important to remember that everybody’s body is different and that might mean you may never be able to touch your toes. But don’t give up! In remembering this, we must remember to be gentle to our hamstrings. Each time you stretch SLOWLY add a little to ease into the sensation. Remember to listen to the whispers of your body and not the screams.
Below are a few of my favorite stretches to lengthen my hamstrings when they are feeling extra tight, which seems to be more often than not from all the desk sitting I’ve been doing. Wah wah.
A few alignment cues to remember:
- Remember not to round your spine for the sake of length. For one this doesn’t actually stretch your hamstrings and two this can overtime cause a compression of lower back causing lower back pain.
- Keep your toes flexed back toward you. Extension of the leg (as seen with a lot of dancers; albeit beautiful) lengthens the hamstring and does not allow for the full stretch of the hamstring.
- DO NOT push yourself. Every day is different, be nice to your body it does a lot of good stuff for you!
Start by warming up – I suggest a simple Sun Salutation A (I have outlined the movements to Sun Salutation A below, if you’ve never done this I suggest watching online somewhere), but do whatever feels good to you!
(There are many options for hamstring stretches, but these are my favorite no prop required stretches!)
1. Uttanasana: Forward Fold. Easy enough right! Try to distribute your weight evenly through the four corners of your feet and fold down. Remember to not round your back. If you have really tight hamstrings put a slight bend into the knee and each session see if can get a little further. Let your hands dangle and relax your neck. If you are trying to move further in this pose try to inhale to lengthen out of your spine and exhale to fold into yourself. Work toward straightening your legs.
Option: Grab your big toe (from the inside of big toe) with peace fingers (pointer and middle finger) inhale to find length in your spine & exhale to see if you can bend your elbows a bit, keeping that length and space in your spine. (Not Pictured)
2. Prasarita Padottanasana: Wide Legged Fold. This is my absolute favorite; it’s such a good release for your hamstrings and hips! It’s really easy to round your back in this pose so please be careful here.
Place your feet about one leg’s distance apart from each other. Pidgeon toe your feet in slighting making sure your ankle bone is line with that middle toe. Place your hands at your hips, lengthen through spine, engage your core (sucking your belly button back and up) and slowly hinge at your hips release your hands down to ground. Shift your weight back and up through your sit bones. Stay here for 30-60 seconds
3. Half Hanumasana : Half Monkey Pose. Man this one is great, and its not easy so be especially gentle with yourself here.
Come into a low lunge with your knee on the mat. Extend out of your waist, engage your outer hip in making sure hips are square you’re not dumping into that hip to get more flexibility. Slowly shift your weight back until your front leg is straight. Making sure those hips are square by engaging the outer hip by rolling it out and slightly away from you. Lengthen through your spine and slowly walk your hands toward your feet, keeping that length in your spine.
4. Paschimottanasana: Intense Western Stretch. We’ve all done this one many times and its often our test to see how our flexibility is. Remember those PE physical fitness tests?
Come to a seated position sitting long through your spine. Remember to move that little extra love away from your bum, so that you are truly seated on your sit bones. Bring your hands over your head, engage your core (back and up) and hinge at your hips. Don’t round your spine here – you’re not doing your hamstrings any justice!
Lay back in savasana & enjoy the benefits if even for a moment!
Any questions, don’t hesitate. Need a little more? Connect with me and we can work together for some further stretches!
Inhale Tadasana (mountain pose) --- Exhale Uttanasana (forward fold) --- Inhale lengthen through your spine and half way lift Ardha Uttananasa (half Forward Fold)--- Exhale place your hands on the mat and step back to a high Plank ---Broaden through your clavicle shift your wait forward and lower to Chaturanga (four limbed staff pose/ lower part of a push up) ---Inhale to Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) --- Exhale to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog)--- Take a few breaths here --- Exhale walk your feet towards your hands -à Inhale Ardha Uttanasana --- Exhale Uttanasana--- Inhale up to standing