Now that you know the damage this can cause, it’s time to do something about it. In this post we’re going to look at the simplest, but most effective ways to improve your hamstring flexibility.
Simple but effective ways to improve hamstring flexibility
There are several ways to improve hamstring flexibility which include:
- Changing your routine to avoid long periods of sitting down.
- Stretching regularly
- Massaging the muscle
It’s worth saying that improvements in flexibility are unlikely to happen overnight and the above methods will need to be applied consistently over a period of time for the benefits to be felt.
Avoiding sitting down
We know that sitting down for long periods of time can contribute to having tight hamstrings, but we’re not suggesting you go resigning from your desk job.
Instead it’s about being more aware of how long you’re spending sitting with your hamstring muscles contracted, and trying to add periods of standing and stretching. This might range from switching to a standing desk, getting up when you’re making calls, or just a few more trips to the water cooler throughout the day.
The best stretches and exercises for tight hamstrings
As a matter of routine, you should be stretching after playing sport. We’ve covered how you do that in a separate guide. But even when you haven’t played sport, if your hamstrings are a problem then they will benefit from some regular stretching.
Searching for ‘hamstring stretches’ online can bring up some seriously crazy moves. There are many exotic yoga stretches you can find, which are aimed at reasonably advanced yoga practitioners.
But we’re going to work on the assumption that you’re probably not a dedicated yoga bunny, or your hamstrings probably wouldn’t be tight in the first place.
Actually, some of the simplest hamstring stretches are the most effective. We suggest keeping it simple, as it means you’re more likely to stretch and to do it properly.
A) Anterior Pelvic tilt – the sitting-down stretch
Lets start with something really simple. Here’s one that you can do even just sitting down in your chair at work. If you’re doing it right you’ll feel a satisfying pull through the muscle. And as it’s so easy you can do it a few times through the day without your colleagues even noticing.
Sit on the edge of your chair, with one leg straight and one leg bent. Keeping your back straight, lean forward from your hips. Feel for the stretch at the back of your straight leg. Repeat on the other side. This video demonstrates it nicely:
B) Hamstring release stretch
This one is also very easy. It works a lot like the test for tight hamstrings we covered in part 1. Lying back, you bring your right leg towards your chest and use your hands to support your thigh. Then try to straighten your right leg towards the ceiling. Hold this stretch so you feel a pleasant pull at the back of your knee and thigh. Your back should be flat on the bed, so you feel the stretch in just your leg. Then repeat with your left leg.
This stretch is nicely demonstrated in the following video:
C) Hamstring Towel Stretch
This can be simply illustrated in the following diagram:
General stretching guidelines: you don’t need to do all these stretches. Try doing just one or two at a time. Repeat the stretch on both legs, multiple times if you can.
Your muscle is like an elastic band. After stretching it tends to go back to its original state. These exercises need to be repeated regularly over a period of time to experience real benefits.
These stretches should be held for around 20 seconds each. As always, observe the following best practice:
- Do not bounce as you stretch.
- Do not hold your breath
- Do not attempt if you have injury. First consult with your doctor.
- Stop if you experience any pain. Consult with a doctor.
D) Dynamic stretches
The stretches above are referred to as static stretches, because you remain relatively still when you do them. These sort of stretches aren’t recommend before playing sport as they can reduce strength and weaken your performance.
Instead, pre-sport, dynamic (i.e. moving) stretching is recommended. You need to be warmed up first before doing these – some gentle jogging will do the trick – don’t just launch into these cold. Try doing the following for your hamstrings.
The straight-leg toe-touch. This can be performed standing straight up, starting with your chest up and shoulders back, put your arms straight out in front of you at 90 degrees. Tighten your abdominals and keep your back straight to maintain good posture. Then, swing your leg forward whilst straight to try to touch your toes to your outstretched hands. Do the same on the other leg and keep alternating. Repeat 10 times.
If you’ve got the luxury of having someone to massage you, and they can work into your hamstrings then that will help. However, most people are going to have to take care of themselves and that’s where your trusty friend, the foam roller comes in (and we can recommend this one*).
To use the foam roller and help release hamstring tension, sit on the roller with it under the bottom part of your hamstrings. Slowly roll back and forth and side to side working your way up toward the glutes. By bearing weight through one leg at a time you will increase pressure on the one side. It’s better than bearing weight through both thighs, because this lightens the pressure. Work both legs thoroughly.
Tight hamstrings are not only at risk of getting injured, they can also cause knock on problems for other areas of the body, including your back and knees.
With a few simple changes to your routine, and a bit of care in the form of stretching and massage, you can improve your hamstring flexibility and reduce your chances of injury. Test out if you’ve got tight hamstrings, and do something about the problem today.