8 Hamstring Stretches That Will Help You Get That Much Closer To Touching Your Toes
If you strongly identify with the kids in gym class who cannot, for the life of them, touch their toes at the seat-and-reach box, listen up. You’re likely dealing with some seriously tight hamstrings.
Your hamstrings are the muscles that extend from the bottom of your glutes all the way down to the backs of your knees. They allow you to do things like walk, run, jump and bring your torso closer to your legs. But when they lack a lot of necessary flexibility, those movements naturally become that much more difficult to perform.
Tight hamstrings can lead to a variety of physiological problems, including but not limited to the backward rotation of the hip joints, lower back pain, sciatic nerve issues and poor posture. Obviously, these are all things we’d love to avoid — and that’s possible with the right kind of stretching. So if you spend a fair amount of time running, biking or sitting at your work desk, it’s time to learn how to stretch your hamstrings properly.
After warming up your body with something as simple as a brisk, 15-minute walk, give these eight hamstrings stretches a try. If you perform them several times a week, you’ll see an improvement in your hamstring flexibility and overall mobility in no time.
1. Standing Forward Bend
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel with one another on the floor. Bring your hands to your hips, and hinge forward from the joint, allowing your torso to fall toward the tops of your thighs. You should feel a stretching sensation in the backs of your legs (hello, hamstring muscles). From here, you have room to play. Reach your hands down toward the floor and pedal out your feet, shifting your weight from one foot to the other to stretch each leg more intensely. Bend your elbows and cross your arms so that they frame your head and neck, and gently sway from side to side. Lean into whichever variation feels good to your hamstrings. Just let gravity do the work — no need to pull or strain. And when you’re ready, simply return to standing in your starting position.
2. Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Step your right foot out to the side so that there’s three or four feet’s worth of distance between your feet. Bring your hands to your hips, and hinge forward from the joint, allowing your torso to fall toward that open space between your thighs. Notice the hamstring stretching sensation here as you reach your hands down toward the floor. If you can reach, grab the outsides of your feet or your heels with your hands for leverage, and gently pull your torso closer toward your legs as you breathe. Just be sure to move mindfully. When you’re ready, carefully upright your torso and bring your feet back together in a standing position.
3. Pyramid Pose
Step your right foot back so that your feet are approximately three feet apart. Turn the toes on your right foot out to a 45-degree angle and keep your left foot facing forward. Bring your hands to your hips, and hinge forward from the joint, allowing your torso to fall toward the top of your left thigh. You should feel an intense stretch in your left hamstring. Breathe here, and if it helps you stretch deeper or maintain your balance, you can reach your hands to the floor on either side of your left foot. When you’re ready, upright your torso, bring your feet back together in the starting position and switch sides.
4. Downward-Facing Dog
Ah, the yoga favorite. Begin in a table-top position with your wrists, elbows and shoulders all in one line and your knees resting directly beneath your hips. As you breathe, tuck your toes and lift your hips straight up into the air, creating an upside-down “V” shape with your body. Press your palms and fingers into the floor so you can reach your heels down toward the floor and feel that hamstring stretch. You can pedal your feet out again here, alternating where you feel the most intense stretch. When you’re done, simply bend your knees and bring them back down to the floor to return to the starting position.
5. Malasana Side Lunge
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and then turn your toes out to a 45-degree angle. Maintaining your balance, sink down into a squat, keeping the bottoms of your feet entirely on the floor and bringing your palms together in front of your chest. Shift your weight to your right foot as you extend your left leg straight out to the side. Rest only your left heel on the floor so you can feel the deep hamstring stretch on the underside of your left leg. When you’re ready to switch sides, inch your left foot in, place the bottom of your left foot back on the floor, shift your weight over to your left foot and extend the right leg straight out to the side. Repeat the stretch here before returning to the original squat position and slowly coming up to a standing position.
6. Seated Forward Bend
Come to a seated position on the floor with your legs stretched out straight in front of you together. Sit nice and tall, elongating the spine. Reach your arms up overhead to grow even longer, and then slowly hinge forward at the hips to bring your torso closer to your thighs. Bring your hands down to your toes, ankles, shins or the floor next to your legs. Maintaining the length in your spine, breathe as you slowly fall further forward, creating a deeper and deeper stretch in your hamstrings. When you’re ready, slowly upright your torso to return to the starting position.
7. Seated Single-Leg Forward Bend
From the seated position, leave your left leg stretched out straight in front of you and bend your right knee so that the bottom of your right foot presses into your left inner thigh. Sit nice and tall, elongating the spine. Reach your arms up overhead to grow even longer, and then slowly hinge forward at the hips to bring your torso closer to your left thigh. Bring your hands down to your toes, ankle, shin or the floor next to your leg. Maintaining the length in your spine, breathe as you slowly fall further forward, creating a deeper and deeper stretch in your hamstring. When you’re ready, slowly upright your torso to return to the starting position, switch legs and repeat.
8. Supine Single-Leg Stretch
Lie down on your back with your legs stretched out long and straight on the floor together. As you breathe, carefully bring your right leg up into the air and toward your torso. Keeping the leg straight, reach your hands around the back of your thigh or shin to create leverage, and slowly pull your straight leg toward your torso. Make sure your left calf maintains contact with the floor while your right leg is in the air. When you’re ready, slowly lower your right leg back down to the floor, lift your left leg and repeat the stretch on the other side.