Please consult your physician before starting exercise programs especially if you are injured.
This post is the first in a series on stretching your legs. We’ll begin at back of the leg with the hamstring. The hamstring is not one, but actually 3 muscles together- located at the behind your thigh. It enables you to bend your knee and extend your hip, by supporting both joints.
In the picture below, I’m demonstrating the correct way to stretch you hamstring. This must be one of the simplest yet most incorrectly performed stretches. The importance of hamstring stretches cannot be emphasized enough, whether you are an athlete or a weekend warrior. Flexible hamstrings are important for preventing and relieving back pain, hip pain, and knee pain – three of the most frequent orthopedic problems that plague Americans today.
Before stretching you need to warm up. The warm up improves your muscle’s ability to stretch and gain range of motion. It can be a simple walk or light jog (about 10 min to slightly increase circulation and heart rate).
The name of the game is hinge not bend!
The biggest mistake is rounding or bending your spine as you lean forward. Rounding provides a good backstretch but does virtually nothing for your hamstrings. Hinge at the hips while keeping your spine straight. Focus on your spine as you hinge and try to imagine if you had tail. Visualize keeping that tail as long as possible.
If you tend to round your back because it is too difficult to stay straight while hinging then your hamstrings are probably very tight. It’s tempting with tight hamstrings to want to reach your knee rather than keep the back straight. But staying straight is more important than reaching your knee! Be mindful while you hinge, and only go to the edge of pain not into. For tight hamstrings the remedy is stretching more frequently, not just on the weekend when you exercise but several times a day.
The hamstring stretch:
1) Put one foot on a low step and intentionally flex your toes back towards your face. Straighten or “lengthening” your spine out of your pelvis (ie Don’t round your back first) You can increase the height of the step as you increase flexibility, providing a more challenging angle.
2) Face the leg to be stretched and hinge at hips. Keep your spine long and continue to hinge until you feel a mild to moderate stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 20-30 sec. Repeat 5 times.
Breathe out easy as you stretch forward –Don’t hold your breath!
3) You may allow some spinal bending at the end of the movement and after holding your spine straight a few times. Bending after properly hinging provides a full body stretch from your heel to your head (***only do this if you do not have active spine problems).