How to Stretch Your Hamstrings Correctly

How to Stretch Your Hamstrings Correctly

December 5, 2022

If it’s painful to stretch your hamstrings, these adjustments could be the answer.

One of the main things we do at Moore Physical Therapy is: teach people how to stretch and strengthen soft tissues. One most common muscle stretched in the body would be the hamstrings.

If I asked my patients: “do you stretch?” Usually, they say “Oh yeah I do stretch, all the time” and I’ll say “What stretch do you do?” And almost everybody says “This stretch…” (where they reach down to their toes). They stretch their hamstrings; the hamstrings are the muscles that we find on the back of our legs and when you bend forward to touch your toes you will stretch those muscle groups; these are some of the biggest muscle groups in our body. But, it surprises me how few people know how to stretch the hamstring in all the ways that we can do it. So, here is the common stretch for the hamstring.

First, a simple way to stretch your hamstrings

Lay on your back with the left leg flat, and we’ll start stretching the right leg. In the common stretch, the right leg is held straight and raised vertically in the air, then pull it towards your head.

As you pull the leg forward, the muscle at the back of the leg (the hamstring) gets lengthened out and tightened and you will feel a stretch across the muscles and tendons. Usually, you’ll feel this stretch behind the knee, it can be kind of a painful stretch. If you push really forcefully, you’ll feel a painful stretch back here, it’ll sting a bit. That’s the most common stretch for the hamstring.

Next, here is a simple way to modify it into a stretch that is even more effective.

Now, a more effective way to stretch your hamstrings

In this stretch, you start the same way, on your back with one leg (say your left leg) straight with the other leg (right leg) verticle, but bent at the knee. Take your bent knee and bring it toward your chest as close as you can. Go ahead and clasp your hands behind your knee. Then, with your leg in that position, start to straighten your leg. Now, you won’t get all the way straight, but you’ll be feeling a stretch now right in the middle of the muscle belly, as opposed to behind the knee.

This stretch doesn’t sting like the 1st stretch does, it’s not as painful and you can get a really good stretch, by actively pulling that leg close and straightening it. If another person, like me, is passively helping, I would just push on the foot to help straighten the leg.

This is a great way to improve the other hamstring stretches you’re doing. It will really isolate and to get the muscle belly, the center of the muscle, stretched out, not just the tendons behind the knee.

One more thing that’s really important to know is that people who have lower back issues, like nerve pain shooting down their legs, this is really the only way you can stretch the hamstring without negatively affecting that nerve that is having a problem. If you’re having those radicular symptoms like what we call sciatica or radiculopathy. For those patients, you have to know this stretch, to be able to stretch your hamstrings out. I hope this will be a big help. Hopefully, you can integrate these into your low back stretches; or for athletes into your pre-performance stretching. Even after your exercise, this stretch can increase elasticity in your muscles to increase your performance.

If you’re having trouble with your hamstrings or radicular symptoms like what we call sciatica or radiculopathy, these stretches should help. If you need more help, give us a call or fill out this form to request your Free Answers Consult™.

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