Fitness

Your Guide To Increasing Hamstring Flexibility

Get limber.

How to increase hamstring flexibility by stretching and exercising.
FreshSplash/E+/Getty Images

We’ve all been there: That moment when you fold forward to touch your toes, only to realize you can’t quite reach. If it feels like the backs of your legs get stiff like this on a regular basis, it may help to learn how to increase hamstring flexibility.

First, a refresher on your all-important hammies. “The hamstrings are a group of muscles that travel from the back of your thigh to the bottom of your knee,” says Dani Schenone, MBA, RYT, ACSM-CPT, a fitness specialist at MindBody. “They allow you to extend your legs and bend your knees, pretty much enabling the lower body to do anything.” But even though you use them all the time, it’s still very common for the hamstring to feel tight.

According to Kelly Turner, a yoga instructor and director of education at YogaSix, you might notice stiffness following intense exercise, or if it’s been a minute since you moved around. “Sitting for prolonged periods actually shortens your hamstrings, which lead to that stiff contraction of the muscle,” she tells Bustle. “In either case, gentle stretching or yoga is a great solution to the limited mobility.”

Of course, improving your flexibility goes way beyond being able to touch your toes. “The benefits of increasing hamstring flexibility are more overall mobility, less stress on the lower back, improved posture, and better strength in the leg,” Schenone says. Flexible hammies can reduce your risk of injury by increasing your range of motion, Turner adds, which in turn helps make everyday tasks a breeze. Here, experts share the best moves to add to your weekly stretching routine that’ll increase your hamstring flexibility.

How To Increase Hamstring Flexibility

PeopleImages/E+/Getty Images

1. Downward Facing Dog

Turner says this yoga pose opens the hamstrings and decompresses the spine.

- Start on all fours in a tabletop position.

- Walk your palms out in front of your shoulders.

- Make sure palms are spread flat against the mat.

- Raise knees off the floor as you shift your stomach toward your thighs.

- Lift hips high, keep legs straight, toes point forward.

- Hold this pose for a few counts as you breathe.

2. Lying Hamstring Stretch

Dynamic stretches work really well when it comes to loosening up the backs of the legs. Move through this one from yoga and Pilates instructor Kelley Fertitta-Nemiro to feel more space in your lower body.

- Lie on your back.

- Extend one leg to the ceiling while the other leg remains bent with foot firmly planted.

- Keep your tailbone pressed into the ground.

- Reach up with your toes to feel a stretch down the back of your leg, then slowly lower foot to the floor.

- Try 10 reps on each leg.

3. Banded Hamstring Stretch

For a little more control, incorporate a band into the lying hamstring stretch. Repeat this move every day for 30 days, Schenone says, and you should see a significant improvement in flexibility.

- Grab a belt, towel, or resistance band.

- Lie on your back.

- Hook belt under the middle of your foot.

- Reach the sole of the foot to the ceiling.

- Tug slightly on the belt straps until you feel a stretch in the posterior (back) of your leg.

- Flex your foot.

- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat on the other side.

4. Deadlifts

Physical therapist and board-certified sports specialist Leada Malek, PT, DPT, CSCS, SCS says deadlifts are a great strength training exercise that also helps improve hamstring flexibility. Do these at least two to three times a week to feel a change.

- Stand behind a barbell, kettlebell, or set of dumbbells.

- With feet hip-width apart, hinge at the hips, bend down and pick up the weights.

- Keep knees slightly bent as you press into the floor with your feet to stand, using the backs of your legs to power up. The weight will hang in front of you.

- Repeat for 12 reps.

5. Wall Stretch

Another way to stretch your hamstrings while feeling extra supported is by shimmying up against a wall, says Flexia Pilates founder and instructor Kaleen Canevari.

- Lie on your back and lift feet up so they rest against a wall.

- Move your butt closer to the wall until you feel a stretch in the backs of your legs.

- To modify, try lifting only one leg at a time.

- Lie this way for a few minutes a day at least three times a week.

6. Half Monkey Pose

Alayna Curry, an AFAA certified fitness instructor, likes this stretch for tight hamstrings.

- Start in tabletop position.

- Bring one leg to the front of your mat into a low lunge, hands framing front foot.

- Back knee should be on the ground.

- Straighten front leg, bringing hips back to a hover.

- Flex front foot to feel a deep stretch in your hamstring.

- Hold for 15 seconds, then switch to the other side.

7. Triangle Pose

- Start in a warrior II yoga pose, with your stance wider than hip-distance.

- Front knee should be bent with toes pointing forward, back leg straight with toes pointing to side.

- Stretch arms out long to make a straight line.

- Straighten the front leg and start to lean towards the front of your mat, lowering your front arm to touch your thigh, calf, ankle, or ground.

- The lower you go, the bigger the stretch you’ll feel, Curry says.

- Hold for 15 seconds, then switch to the other side.

Experts say it’s beneficial to do these moves as often as possible. “Stretching your hamstrings at least once a day can aid tightness, however, stretching multiple times a day will produce the quickest results,” Fertitta-Nemiro says. The results will depend on your body and how stiff you are, but you should be able to get closer to touching those toes — and feeling more limber overall — in a few weeks.

Studies referenced:

Decoster, L. (2005). The Effects of Hamstring Stretching on Range of Motion: A Systematic Literature Review. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. Volume35Issue6Pages377-387

Fatima, G. (2017). Extended sitting can cause hamstring tightness. Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine. DOI:10.4103/sjsm.sjsm_5_17

Reis, F. (2015). Influence of Hamstring Tightness in Pelvic, Lumbar and Trunk Range of Motion in Low Back Pain and Asymptomatic Volunteers during Forward Bending. Asian Spine Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4522442/

Experts:

Dani Schenone, MBA, RYT, ACSM-CPT, yoga teacher at MindBody

Kelly Turner, E-RYT 500, yoga instructor and director of education at YogaSix

Kelley Fertitta-Nemiro, Pilates instructor

Leada Malek, PT, DPT, CSCS, SCS, physical therapist and board-certified sports specialist

Kaleen Canevari, Pilates instructor and founder of Flexia Pilates

Alayna Curry, an AFAA certified fitness instructor