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October 28, 2018

Hamstring Stretches: How to Do Them

Let’s see how smart you are. What is the name the muscle group that when used as a verb means “to thwart” or “to render powerless or useless?”  An injury to this muscle group is very debilitating. In fact, it can take an elite athlete a year to fully recover from a strain or tear from it. If you said “quadriceps” you are wrong. If you said “triceps” you are wrong. HINT: look at the title of the article. The muscle group is the hamstring. Have you ever felt “hamstrung” or feel that someone is “hamstringing you?” To reduce your chances of you hamstringing yourself by injuring this muscle group be sure to do regular hamstring stretches.

hamstring stretchesThe Hamstrings

The hamstrings are comprised of three muscles: the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. It is located on the back of your thigh. It’s a unique muscle group as it crosses two joints – the hips and the knees. Most muscles only cross one joint.  So any movement that requires extending your leg back or flexing the knee activates the hamstrings. It’s under maximum stretch when the hip is extended and knee flexed simultaneously.

The hamstrings are the brakes when you attempt to slow down while running. It requires the hamstring to stretch while it is contracting or what is called an eccentric contraction. That differs from a concentric muscle contraction where the muscle shortens when contracting. Think of the biceps in the upper arm contracting as you curl a weight. Eccentric contractions are more strenuous to muscles and tendons, and it is during the eccentric contraction that muscle and tendon injuries occur. Think of the biceps in the arm again. After you curl weight and then lower it so that your elbow is straight, you feel more tension in the biceps muscle during this eccentric contraction than with the concentric contraction or lifting of the weight.

Athletes can usually play through most mild muscle strains, but even the mildest of hamstring injuries will shut an athlete down. If you ever had a hamstring injury you know this from personal experience. It is virtually impossible to do anything athletically with an injury like that.

By improving flexibility and strength in the hamstring,  injuries to the area can be reduced.

Exercises for Hamstrings

There are several exercises for the hamstrings both for strengthening the hamstrings as well as stretching them. In this article, we will focus on how to stretch tight hamstrings.

There is no shortage of ways to stretch your muscles which begs the question is there a best hamstring exercise? The short answer to that is probably not, but in general, it is best to exercise muscles in a functional way – in a manner that simulates daily use or athletic use of a muscle group.

The hamstrings can be stretched while standing, sitting, and lying down. There are several ways to stretch them in each of those positions. We recommend that you pick one stretch that involves standing, one that involves sitting, and one that involves lying down. For variety, you can change the specific exercise in each of those positions from time to time.

Hamstring Stretches: Basic Stretching Tips

The following tips apply to any muscle group you stretch.

  • Warm-up your muscles for five minutes before stretching. In fact, it is best to stretch after a workout is completed.
  • Stretch until you feel mild discomfort, but not pain particularly sharp pain.
  • Don’t bounce or force a stretch.
  • Be sure to breath when stretching and relax into the stretch.
  • Hold each stretch for 30 seconds then relax.
  • Stretch a minimum of three times a week.

Hamstring Stretches: Standing Hamstring Stretch

hamstring stretchesThe standing hamstring stretch is the most functional hamstring stretch as it mimics how we normally use our leg and hamstring during activity. First, the foot of the side being stretched is on the ground (unlike in the seated or lying positions). Secondly, body weight is being applied to the stretch unlike in the seated or lying positions).

If you are stretching the right hamstring you have the right leg straight with heel on the ground in front of you. The left leg is partially flexed at the hip and knee. You lean forward placing your hands on the bent left leg while keeping your back straight. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. As tension in the hamstring muscle releases you can lean forward further to reapply a comfortable stretch. Then switch leg and repeat stretching each muscle five times.

Lying Hamstring Stretch

hamstring stretchesThe advantage of the lying hamstring stretch is that it better isolates the hamstring muscle and takes the role of the back out of the stretch. You may be able to sit and touch your nose to your knee simply because you have great flexibility in your back and not really isolate the muscle. In other words, the lying stretch makes sure that the stretch is coming from the hamstring and not your back as a result of leaning forward.

In this stretch your lying on the ground on your back. If stretching the right hamstring bend your hip and knee at 90 degrees and have left leg straight out on the ground. Interlock your fingers of both hands behind the right knee then try to extend the knee straight as far as you can and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Your goal is to eventually get the stretched leg pointed upward towards the ceiling or 180 degrees. A modification of this stretch involves pulling the leg being stretched towards the chest while straightening the knee for a deeper stretch. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat five times on each side.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

hamstring stretches

If stretching the right hamstring, sit on the ground with right leg straight and in front of you. Bend your left knee bringing your left foot towards your thigh inner thigh. Then lean at the waist. You can stretch a different part of the hamstring by either bending towards your right foot or left foot. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat five times for each hamstring.

Why Should You Do Hamstring Stretches?

Now that we discussed how to do hamstring stretches, why should you? Tight hamstrings restrict motion of the pelvis and increase the stress on the lumbar spine. Think of it this way—when you bend over at the waist you are stretching your hamstrings and lower back. If your hamstrings are tight you have no choice but to make the lower back work harder to complete the movement.

Tight hamstrings pull the pelvis backwards which has the net effect of reducing the normal lordotic curvature of the lumbar spine. This makes the lumbar spine straighter putting more pressure on the intervertebral discs while over-stretching and weakening the lumbar muscles.

Hamstring Stretches: How To Stretch Properly

Stretching your hamstrings is essential, but doing it properly is most important. The last thing you want to do is cause more damage by not stretching correctly. Here are a few tips:

Warm Up First

Stretching muscles without warming up can cause you to pull a muscle. It’s a good idea to do a low-intensity exercise or gently pump your arms before getting started. 

Don’t Bounce While Stretching

If you bounce while stretching, it can create small tears in the muscle which will eventually cause scar tissue. Unfortunately, scar tissue tightens the muscle even more,  making you less flexible. Plus, it causes additional aches and pains.

Hold The Stretch For At Least 30 Seconds

A vital part of stretching properly is to get in a good stretch. You should hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds to really feel the impact. Furthermore, if you’re really tense, hold for 60 seconds. If you focus on providing each muscle group with a prolonged stretch, you’ll likely only have to do it once—rather than repeating the process.

Stretch Before Exercise

This tip is a biggie. If you give your body a jumpstart before physical activity, you lower the risk of injury. However, beginning exercise before loosening your muscles is a recipe for disaster.

When Should You Not Stretch?

This article is all about hamstring stretches, and they’re wonderful. However, there are certain times when you should stay away from them. Here are a few scenarios below:

Broken Bones

After fracturing a bone, the area needs time to heal. If you stretch the muscles in the surrounding area, it can put stress on the bone, which hinders the healing time. Furthermore, before stretching the joint around the broken bone, you need to have it cleared by a doctor.

Joint Sprains

You overstretch the ligaments that help you stabilize the bones that create the joint when you sprain a joint. Therefore, you should steer clear of stretching soon after a joint injury. It needs time to heal and stretching slows the process.

Acute Muscle Sprains

Avoid stretching if you’ve suffered from an acute muscle strain. Your body needs time to rest, so stretching isn’t a good idea. Pulling muscle fibers can create more injury to the area.

Hamstring Stretches: Various Ways To Comfort Your Muscles

Taking good care of your hamstrings in vital, but you have an entire body of muscles to tend to. There’s no sense in having stretched hamstrings will the rest of your muscle groups are tense. Luckily, there are other ways you can provide comfort to your hamstrings and other parts of the body.

Use A Foam Roller

Foam rollers are perfect for giving your muscles a deep press, especially after a workout. Stretching is great, but if you have issues with bending or reaching your toes for a good stretching, rolling is the answer. You can lay the tense area of your body over the roller and let it do all at the work. Move up and down on the roller, while the heaviness from your body weight pushes the foam into your muscles. You might not be able to go get a massage on a regular basis, but a foam roller is the only masseuse you need.

Meditate

Meditation and relaxation is perfect for relieving the body from tension. When you’re anxious and stressed, it begins to affect you physically. However, creating a calm ambiance while deep breathing helps to take some of the edge off. Put on soft music or light some candles to help you get rid of the issues that are bothering you. If you’d like, you can take this time to stretch and meditate as an added perk.

Drink Water

As you know, water hydrates the body and helps get your organs functioning properly. It also helps to relax the muscles by keeping cells supple and flushing out toxins. If you work out regularly and need to replace electrolytes, drink beverages like coconut water.

Get A Good Night’s Sleep

Not do your muscles need to be stretched, but they must be rested as well. Get sleep allows your body to recuperate from strenuous exercise and helps it get back to normal. On the other hand, resting doesn’t just mean sleeping. You can rest by taking a light stroll, swimming, or doing yoga. Doing light physical activity allows your body to regain its strength, without putting your muscle groups under stress.

Get A Massage

Who doesn’t like a relaxing massage? Sometimes you just have to pamper yourself and getting a massage is the answer. It relieves your muscle fibers of tightness and smoothes knots to reduce aches and pain. There are some areas of the body that require special attention and can’t be worked out by self-care. If you can, try to get a massage at least once a month. It’ll make a huge difference in the way you feel.

Drink Green Tea

Believe it or not, drinking green tea helps to repair damage in your muscle tissue and aid in speedy recovery. It’s rich in antioxidants and gives your body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.

Take A Bath

A warm bath is perfect for aching muscles. Plus, by adding essential oils or Epsom salt, it aids in giving your body the relief it needs. A 30-minute bath once or twice a week can give your muscles a boost to help them function properly. This option is also great for those who can’t get a massage on a regular basis.

Sit In A Hot Tub

This option is a step above taking a bath. If you have access to a jacuzzi, by all means, use it! Your muscles will thank you. Between the warms water and pulsating jets, it provides the perfect atmosphere for repairing muscles. If you can get into a hot tub right after a strenuous workout, that’s even better.

Sit In A Sauna

There’s something about heat that has the ability to penetrate tense body parts like no other. Not only that, but sweating releases toxins from your body, which also helps you feel better. If you can, sit in a sauna for 10-15 minutes to give your muscles a  boost.

Final Thoughts On Hamstring Stretches

Now that you understand more about hamstring stretches, you can know how important it is to take care of them. Every part of your body supports you ways that you might not realize. Self-care is essential, especially as you get older. The great thing about your body is that if you care for it, it’ll provide care back. You don’t have to settle for aching muscles and stiff joint as your age. Do right by your body and see how good you feel!

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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