3 not-so-obvious signs that your hamstrings need stretching

July 11, 2023 0 Comments

“], “filter”: { “nextExceptions”: “img, blockquote, div”, “nextContainsExceptions”: “img, blockquote, a.btn, ao-button”} }”>

Going out the door? Read this article about the new Outside+ app, now available on member iOS devices! >”,”name”:”in-content-cta”,”type”:”link”}}”>Download the app.

Many athletes consider flexible hamstrings something of a badge of honor. And while it can be useful in your workouts and everyday life, not everyone needs Cirque du Soleil-level stretching abilities that allow you to effortlessly dive into the splits.

However, if you start to feel outright pain in other parts of your body, experts say it may be time to focus on the back of your legs.

Anatomy of your hamstrings

Your hamstrings are complicated: they’re made up of three large muscles—the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus—that run along the back of your leg from your hip to your lower knee.

Illustration of the hamstrings on the back of the legs

“The main function of the hamstrings is to bend the knee and extend the hip, which is key to a variety of everyday activities like walking, running, and jumping,” says Los Angeles-based Alo Moves trainer Louis Chandler. In other words, those mega muscles support all those runs, hikes, and yoga poses. And when they start to get stiff, all your daily tasks—from walking to bending over—can become more difficult.

If you prefer explosive workouts like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and sprinting, you’re probably familiar with hamstring pain. Hamstring injuries are the most common non-contact injury in sports and are very likely to recur. However, by focusing on hamstring mobility and flexibility, you can avoid these nagging injuries and allow you to move pain-free throughout your day and workouts.

If you’re unsure about the condition of your hamstrings, Chandler offers some tell-tale signs that it’s time to pay more attention to these muscles.

3 Signs Your Hamstrings Need Stretching

1. You feel tension and/or pain in your lower back

In a way, the human body is like a house of cards: pull out a jack of hearts or a two of spades, and suddenly the whole structure collapses. Although the anatomical equivalent is not as dramatic, muscle tension in one part of the body can lead to overcompensation in other parts.

For example, Chandler says inflexible hamstrings can cause the lumbar spine or lower back to compensate as you walk, sit, and go about your workout and day. “The tighter the hamstrings, the more they pull on your sit bones, tilting your pelvis back,” he says. “It has a negative effect on the alignment of your spine.” Over time, this leads to lower back pain.

2. Your hips feel tight and cranky

This tilt of the pelvis affects not only the lower back. Imbalances can also contribute to hip stiffness because they overcompensate for your tight hamstrings, supporting your lumbar spine.

3. The knee hurts

Since the three muscles in your hamstring extend all the way down to the lower knee, you may experience some pain in this joint due to a lack of flexibility. When these bands of tissue are stretched, it can interfere with your knee’s ability to straighten and bend. Your knee can react by pulling on this hamstring, which can lead to a number of injuries, including osteoarthritis. If your knees hurt from your daily activities, your hamstrings may be begging to be stretched.

Woman runner leaning forward stretching
(Photo: PeopleImages | Getty)

The hamstrings are stretched to improve your flexibility

Hamstring stretches are an easy exercise to incorporate into your day. Waiting for the microwave burrito to be ready? Drop into a fast forward roll. Meeting a jogging partner in the park? Place one foot on the bench and reach for your toes.

If you want to take a more measured approach to your routine, Chandler says you only need three five-minute stretches a day. Even if you consider yourself completely inflexible, these moves will give you some much-needed benefits.

1. Stretching the hamstring with a towel

“It’s great for clients who may not have the best mobility and struggle to reach their toes,” says Chandler.

Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Wrap a towel, yoga strap, or even a hoodie around the arch of one foot and, keeping your leg straight, try to gently pull your foot toward you, creating a hamstring stretch. Stay here for 30 seconds and switch to the other leg.

2. Bending forward while sitting

Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Extend your spine, straighten your arms and stretch forward as far as possible without bending your knees. Don’t force your body. Stay here for 15 to 30 seconds, keeping your back straight and engaged.

3. Bending forward while standing

Take a standing position. Place your feet shoulder-width apart or wider, depending on what feels right for you. Brace your hips and reach toward your toes, bending your knees slightly if necessary. Aim for your chest to rest on your hips. Stay here for 15 to 30 seconds.

RELATED: How to Change Your Yoga Practice for Tight Hamstrings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *