Are your hamstrings tight? These seven easy, effective hamstring stretches will relieve tension and support a healthy back and posture.
You may not associate hamstring muscles with back health, but they play a major role in our posture. Sitting long hours at a desk or driving for long periods of time puts stress on the lower back, while tight hamstrings pull the pelvis into a posterior tilt.
A constant posterior tilt will force the back muscles to overwork. The back muscles will try to pull the pelvis back into a neutral position, usually causing you more discomfort. Does this sound familiar?
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The good thing is you have the ability to bring balance into the back and pelvis in under 10 minutes – through your hamstrings!
In the exercises below, you will learn to do a facilitated stretch, engaging muscles while you stretch. We often pause a stretch the moment our brain sends signals that it’s painful, but this prevents us from reaping the full benefits of stretching.
Facilitated stretching helps us overcome this response and maximize the flexibility of the muscles we’re stretching. For best results, try these stretches at least once a day or after long periods of sitting.
- A yoga mat
- Two yoga blocks
7 Hamstring Stretches to Soothe Your Back Pain
Calf Stretch | 10 breaths per side
Often, tightness in the hamstrings means the calf muscles are also tight. Stretching them can relieve tension in the backs of the legs. Plus, it’s a great stretch you can do anywhere.
- Start standing with your feet parallel, hip-width apart, and your hands on your hips.
- Step your right foot back, placing the whole foot on the ground.
- Keep the back knee straight as you bend the front knee. The back heel lengthens towards the ground or is pressed into the mat.
- Hold for 10 breaths and then switch sides.
Standing Forward Fold | 10 breaths
This is a more active forward fold than you might be used to. This forward fold uses facilitated stretching, which increases your flexibility quickly and prevents the hamstrings from overstretching.
- Start standing with feet hip-width distance apart, and hold onto your yoga blocks. Bend the knees and fold forward, placing the blocks on the ground underneath your shoulders.
- To activate the outer hip muscles, try to pull the heels apart like you’re trying to pull the mat apart underneath you. This is an isometric muscle action. You’re not actually moving the heels but activating the muscles that would.
- Straighten the legs by lifting the back of the pelvis up and keep trying to pull the heels apart.
- Inhale, elongate the spine, and then exhale, bowing forward.
- Maintaining all the poses above, hold for 10 breaths.
Lizard Pose | 10 breaths per side
Lizard pose opens up the hamstrings, hips, and hip flexors, which can help relieve lower back pain.
- Begin in a lunge with your right foot forward, left leg back behind you, and hands on the yoga blocks.
- Turn your front leg out (externally rotate at the hip joint), and move both blocks on the inside of your front leg.
- Move your back knee onto the mat, but keep your back toes tucked.
- Lean your hips forward, and pull your back knee diagonally towards the front heel without coming out of the pose. Try to feel your inner thigh muscles engage.
- Stay in the stretch for 10 breaths. Gently release out of the stretch and switch sides.
Note: For a deeper stretch, remove the blocks and place your elbows on the ground.
Half Split | 10 breaths per side
This stretch targets the backs of the legs. Keep the leg active while stretching to bring the stretch into the belly of the muscle.
- Start in a lunge with the right foot forward, left leg back, and your hands on yoga blocks.
- Place the back knee down and lengthen the front leg. Bring the blocks underneath the shoulders and lengthen the spine.
- Now for activation time! Try to pull your front heel back towards your back knee.
- Deeply inhale, then exhale and bow over your front leg. Keep the activation the whole time you’re stretching.
- After 10 breaths, gently release and switch legs.
Pyramid Pose | 10 breaths per side
This pose deeply stretches the backs of the legs. Take your time getting into this pose, and keep the quadriceps active the whole time.
- Start in a standing position with your feet parallel, hip-width distance apart, and the yoga blocks in your hands.
- Step the left foot back a comfortable amount, keeping the whole back foot on the ground.
- Inhale and lengthen the spine, then exhale and fold at the hips. Place the yoga blocks on the ground underneath, bowing over your front leg.
- Take long and steady breaths. After ten, gently bend the front knee and elongate the spine to come out of the pose.
Seated Forward Fold | 10 breaths
The tendency in a seated forward fold is to hunch the back and consequently stretch the lower back. We really should be trying to stretch the hamstrings.
Keep the back long and the breath steady in this pose. Every inhale brings you a little out of the pose, and exhales allow you to go deeper. With patience and consistency, your nose will soon touch your shins.
- Come to a seated position, legs lengthened and active. Flex your feet.
- Place your hands on either side of your hips, coming onto your fingertips. Inhale, press down into your hands, and lengthen the spine. Then exhale, and walk your hands a few steps forward, keeping the back long.
- Every inhale, lengthen the torso and every exhale, fold more at the hips.
- Lengthen the back and gently come out of the stretch.
Supine Hamstring Stretch | 10 breaths per side
When you activate the top leg in this pose, you will gain more range of motion and reduce the chance of pulling your hamstring.
- Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet on the ground, and hip-width distance apart.
- Straighten the left leg along the ground out in front of you. Flex both feet.
- Bend the right knee towards the chest and clasp your hands underneath the right thigh.
- Press your right leg into your hands for three seconds to activate the leg, then release the pressure. Continue this action throughout the 10-breath cycle.
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