Hamstring stretches are vital to your overall leg health, as well as the health and fitness of your lower back.
The hamstring is made up of 3 muscles:
- Biceps Femoris
These muscles run down the back of the upper leg. They extend from the lower pelvis, down the upper leg, cross the knee joint, and connect at the lower leg (calf muscles). Your hamstrings are critical to basic functions such as walking and running.
Benefits of Hamstring Stretches
There are many benefits to stretching your hamstring muscle:
- Reduces your risk of injury
- Improves circulation
- Improve posture
- Provides relief to your lower back (see below)
Several years ago, I suffered a lower back strain while doing back exercises. An improper warm-up and stretching routine prior to my workout was the reason that I strained my back. It is definitely a mistake that you only make once.
Although the strain did not seem like much initially, it turned out to be a nagging problem for 6 months before I was back to 100%. It was a long and frustrating 6 months, so please heed my advice on stretching routines, as I will steer you away from these common muscle strains.
I went to an orthopedic doctor for lower back treatment, and he placed me in physical therapy for 6 weeks. He also gave me some of the best advice I have received regarding lower back health.
He told me that daily hamstring stretches are the most important thing I can do to improve lower back health and reduce the chance of injury. My first thought was “This stretch will help my lower back…really?”
Here is why the doctor was right…
When your hamstrings are tight, it creates a constant pulling tension on your pelvis, thus straining your lower back.
This continuous strain puts pressure on the lower back. As your hamstring “loosens” through proper stretching, it slowly alleviates that downward pressure and provides needed relief. Your lower back can then breathe as your hamstring becomes elongated and more supple!
See the photos below on the key to a proper stretch, as it is not what you would expect, and certainly not what you hear from most athletic coaches. Well, some you do, but only the good ones.
Like all stretching routines, hamstring stretches follow the all-important warm-up process.
#1 Warm-up all muscles with a light cardio routine
- Jumping jacks
- Jogging in place
- Skipping rope
#2 Perform some dynamic stretches – make sure motions are smooth with no jerking
- Leg lunges
- Standing knee raises
- Light leg swings back and forth
#3 Perform static stretches (see below)
- Do not jerk
- Do not bounce
- Smooth motions
- Hold stretch for 20 seconds
Hamstring Anchor Stretch
The first stretch was given to me by the orthopedic doctor that I described above when I was treated for a lower back injury. I’ll refer to this stretch as the anchor stretch. This is the most effective hamstring stretch you can perform, but it must be done correctly.
Anchor one leg with the ankle/foot on a table, chair, or other object (see photo).
Here is the key: You want to move your upper body straight forward, and do not curl your torso down toward your knee. Most people bend at the waste and curl their torso, moving their head in the direction of the knee. However, you want to keep your back relatively straight, and just move your upper body forward without dipping your head. This action really engages and isolates the hamstring. You will feel it.
Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
Hamstring Floor Stretch – Sitting
Sit on the floor, and extend one leg straight out. Curl the other leg by moving the foot to your upper leg (photo). In the same manner as the anchor stretch above, move the body forward but do not curl your torso down to your knee. Move forward until you feel slight discomfort, and hold for 20 seconds.
Hamstring Floor Stretch – Lying Flat
Lie on the floor near a corner or pole, and extend one leg straight up, with a slight bend, against the wall. Slowly try to straighten your leg until you feel slight discomfort – hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Perform stretch with other leg.