Healthy, Happy Hamstrings: How to Gain Hamstring Flexibility

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Your hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh, from your hip to just below your knee. Tight hamstrings are very common, and tend to become tighter and less flexible as we age, primarily due to how much time we spend sitting. 

Regardless of your activity level, you have probably experienced some tightness in your hamstrings at some point in your life. And while stretching a tight muscle might seem like the obvious answer, it isn’t always that simple. Addressing muscular instabilities, poor posture, and muscle strength can be just as important as increasing flexibility. 

Why are my hamstrings tight?

Some common causes of tight hamstrings include the following:

  1. Too much sitting – your hip flexors and hamstrings are in a shortened position while sitting which causes them to become tight and weak. 
  2. Overuse – repetitive physical activity like running and cycling can lead to tight hamstrings. 
  3. Overcompensation – your hamstrings can become overactive when they are compensating for weak glutes or tight hip flexor muscles.   
  4. Weakness – when a muscle is weak, usually from underuse, it can easily become overloaded and feel tight as a result.
  5. Injury – when a muscle is injured it can tighten in order to prevent additional injury. 
  6. Misalignment – if your pelvis is out of alignment it can disrupt movement and proper alignment leading to tight hamstrings. 
  7. Poor posture – tight hip flexors can create an anterior pelvic tilt resulting in tight hamstrings. 
  8. Genetics – some people are born with shorter hamstrings; in general men have tighter hamstrings than women. 

Why is hamstring flexibility important?

Flexible, strong hamstrings enable your knees, legs, back, and hips to function smoothly and provide protection from injuries. This muscle group helps us walk, run, and jump so keeping your hamstrings healthy is critical to everyday movements and sports performance alike. Stretching will help you avoid strains and muscle tears, as well as protect you from common knee injuries such as an ACL tear. Additionally, tight hamstrings can place the pelvis in a dysfunctional position, creating poor alignment in the hip and knee joints and compression in the spine. 

How to increase hamstring flexibility 

Strengthening your glutes and getting them to fire more efficiently is essential to proper hamstring function. Exercises such as glute bridges, donkey kicks, and clamshells activate your glutes and are commonly performed in barre classes along with other hip and glute movements. You can follow these targeted glute isolation exercises with compound movements, such as squats and deadlifts. This practice, combined with a regular stretching routine, or yoga will help alleviate your hamstring stress.

Consider including both static stretching (best done after a workout when your muscles are warm) and dynamic stretching (ideally performed before a workout to warm up your muscles) into your flexibility routine. Static stretches involve holding a stretch for 30-60 seconds whereas dynamic stretching requires mindfully moving in and out of the movement several times for 60-90 seconds. 

Some hamstring stretches to incorporate into your routine include the following:

  1. Seated forward fold
  2. Hurdlers stretch
  3. Standing forward fold
  4. Single leg standing hamstring stretch
  5. Supine single leg hamstring stretch (with a strap)

Hate stretching on your own? No problem. These 5 common hamstring stretches, as well as others like half-splits, are part of most yoga classes. Yoga is a great addition to your workout routine to increase hamstring flexibility while barre will help strengthen the muscles of your hips, pelvis, core, and hamstrings for better overall function. Ohana Yoga + Barre offers a robust library of on-demand classes and a full in-person schedule, and a sweet introductory offer, so you can optimize your hamstring health!

Erin Entlich is a certified yoga instructor, personal trainer, holistic health coach, and writer. She believes doing good starts with feeling good, which is why she loves helping people weave movement, mindfulness, and healthy eating into their daily lives. Find out more at www.erinentlich.com.