Below are instructions and illustrations for some of the best hamstrings stretching exercises you can perform while lying down, sitting, and standing. They are all safe, effective, and easy to perform for most people.
The hamstrings (the backs of the thighs) are muscles for movement. Except for a small section, they are multijoint muscles. When you walk, run, or jump, you stretch them at one end and contract them at the other end. Their length varies only slightly despite this muscle contraction, which allows them to stay very powerful and very quick during any movement.
The hamstrings are therefore very useful in most sports, since they are the muscles (with the aid of the quadriceps, the glutes, and the calves) that help you move as quickly as possible.
Despite their key role in daily life, the hamstrings are really neglected aesthetically because they cannot be seen from the front. However, the hamstrings provide a very distinct shaping to the thigh. The upper hamstrings are also located where a large amount of ugly fat normally appears. This occurs especially in women, even though some men have fat here that resembles cellulite. If this is a problem for you, then working the hamstrings, especially in long sets, is an absolute necessity.
There are many hamstrings stretching exercises available out there, so it is important to select an approach that is comfortable and won’t aggravate the sciatic nerve.
The importance of stretching the hamstrings
The hamstrings are typically tight muscles for the majority of people. Hamstring stretches can loosen up the muscles and make daily activities, such as walking and climbing stairs, easier. Stretching your hamstrings also helps prevent back injury and lower back pain.
Postworkout stretching is great for cooling down and helping to maintain flexibility. This is the time for additional static stretching if you would like to work on your range of motion or decrease the amount of stiffness you may get from your workout.
Top 10 hamstrings stretching exercises
You can also perform the stretches shown below after each set of a hamstring exercise and at the end of your workout. If you have time, you can stretch your hamstrings every morning or night, regardless of legs training.
For the following hamstrings stretching exercises, hold the stretched position for 20 to 30 seconds while breathing normally before moving to the other leg.
Bent-over hamstring stretch (standing toe touch)
Plant both feet on the floor hip-width apart. While keeping your legs straight, bend forward from your hips and reach for your toes with both hands (or as far as you can). Once you can touch your toes with your finger tips, your next progression is to make fists and try to touch the floor just in front our your toes with your knuckles. And finally, if you are flexible enough, place the entire surface of your palms on the floor (as shown on image B). Hold this position for the specified amount of time, breathing deeply throughout. Each time that you exhale, lower your torso further towards your legs to increase the stretch.
Kneeling toe touch
Kneel down and kick your right leg in front of you. Point your toes up and reach forward to try and touch/grab your toes. Hold. Repeat the exercise with your left leg straight. The kneeling toe hamstring stretch helps to stretch out many muscles in your body and should be something to work on.
Seated single-leg hamstring stretch (seated toe touch)
Sit on a mat with your right leg straight and your toes pulled toward your shin. Place the bottom of your left foot against the inside of your right thigh. You can also bent your left foot so the sole of your foot rests on the inner thigh of your right leg. Choose the variant that suits you best. Place your hands on your right leg.
Keeping your back straight, slowly bend forward at your hips toward your right leg to feel a stretch in your right hamstring and lower back. Repeat the exercise with your left leg straight.
Seated two-leg hamstring stretch (seated forward fold)
Sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you and touching each other. Keeping your back flat, abs engaged, and legs straight, reach for your toes until you feel a stretch in hamstring muscles. This stretch should feel challenging, but never painful.
Here, however, we eliminate the bothersome component of balance that ocassionally interferes during the exercises performed standing up. The exercise is not as simple as it may seem, and the most common mistake is to flex the trunk (“curve your back”), while the correct thing to do is to perform the flexion truly at the hip. One common mistake is to flex the knees at the same time that one tries to lower oneself more, doubtlessly in order to alleviate some of the tension on the ischiotibial muscles.
Standing cross-leg toe touch
Stand erect with legs crossed, outsides of feet together, balancing on one foot. Stabilize yourself on a wall if you have poor balance. Bend over with rear knee straight. Reach toward feet or bring torso toward legs. Hold stretch. Repeat with opposite leg. Note that it’s ok if your knees bend a little in this process; it’s more important to feel that stretch in your hamstring.
Walking high kicks
Stand tall with your legs straight and arms hanging at your sides. Kick one leg straight out in front of you while reaching for it with the opposite hand. Return the leg to the ground to repeat on the opposite side. To be more precise, start by stretching one of your hands out in front of you parallel to the ground (or ideally a few inches up from parallel, toward the ceiling). Then swing your opposite leg forward in a kicking motion, while ensuring your knee does not bend and your leg remains fully straight when you swing your leg upwards.
Standing hamstring stretch – Flexion of the hip with knee extended
Place one heel on the floor (A), a chair (B), or (C) a table (the higher your foot, the greater the stretch). Straighten the leg and put your hands on the stretched thigh, a little above the knee. Slowly bend forward by flexing the hip slightly. When your hamstring is really stretched, you can bend your standing leg a little to get an even better stretch.
From a standing position, one leg is slightly flexed and the other is extended to the front, supporting the heel. The knee must remain perfectly extended, to favor the stretch of the ischiotibialis. The spine must remain aligned (and the head as a continuation of the spine) just like in the majority of the exercises.
Lying hamstring stretch with leg bent/straight (Leg up hamstring stretch)
Lie on the floor and grab one leg with your hands to bring it closer to your torso while bending it (B: easier version) or keeping it straight (A: advanced version). In other words, use your both hands to slowly pull your lifted leg toward your head to feel a stretch in your right hamstring. Repeat for the opposite side. The bent-leg version stretches the top of the hamstring but not the lower part near the knee, rendering the movement much easier. It is a good starting exercise for beginners or if you are prone to hamstring strains.
Lying hamstring stretch with band/towel
Lie on your back with a resistance band or towel wrapped around your right foot. If you don’t have one, you can use your hands to pull back on your thigh instead (see images above). Slowly stretch your right leg up, keeping the opposite leg flat on the floor and both knees straight. Extend as far as you can go until you feel a stretch in the back of your right leg. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
Foam roller hamstring roll
This exercise helps reduce muscle tension and imbalances in the hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh. There are many ways to foam roll your hamstring muscles.
F.A.Q. #1 Can I use a wall to stretch my hamstrings?
Yes. Lie on a mat facing the edge of a wall or doorway. Bend your left leg and place your foot flat on the floor. Position your right heel against the edge of the wall or doorway with the toes on your right foot pointed toward your shin. With your hands beside you, slide your body forward to move your right leg closer to the wall or doorway. Repeat the exercise with your left leg. This variation is useful when you do not have a rope or towel handy to help you stretch.
F.A.Q. #2 Can I use another person to help stretch my
If you are not flexible, a partner can help stretch your hamstrings more effectively. Lie on a mat with both legs straight, knees slightly bent and the toes on your right foot pointed toward your shin. Have your partner kneel in front of you, lift your right leg and position your calf on his or her left shoulder. Your partner can place his or her left hand on your right upper thigh and then move forward until you feel a stretch in your right hamstring. Repeat the exercise with your left leg.
Closing thoughts: Hamstrings stretching exercises
Tight hamstrings can cause your stride to become short and painful. So whether you run, walk or sit around all day, you’ll certainly get tight hamstrings at some point. Hamstrings stretches improve walking, running and any other activity where your legs are used as the main mode of movement. Looser hamstrings also help your lower back by allowing the pelvis to move more freely. In so doing, this helps to relieve the lower back. Therefore, try these hamstrings stretching exercise to save yourself from many problems.