6 Best Hamstring Stretches and Exercises
Hamstring stretches to improve your hamstring flexibility and relieve tight hamstring muscles.
by Brad Walker | First Published June 19, 2009 | Updated May 29, 2019
Sports that Benefit from Hamstring Stretches
Sports that benefit from the hamstring stretches below include: Basketball and Netball; Cycling; Hiking, Backpacking, Mountaineering and Orienteering. Ice Hockey and Field Hockey; Ice Skating, Roller Skating and Inline Skating; Martial Arts; Running, Track and Cross Country.
Running sports like Football, Soccer, Gridiron and Rugby also benefit from regular hamstring stretching. Snow Skiing and Water Skiing; Surfing; Walking and Race Walking, and any sport that involves jumping or explosive movement.
Hamstring Muscles being Stretched
While performing the hamstring stretches below there are a number of muscles within the hip and upper leg that are stretched. Below is a comprehensive list of the anatomical muscle names involved in the following hamstring stretches.
- Semimembranosus (Medial hamstring);
- Semitendinosis (Medial / central hamstring);
- Biceps Femoris (Lateral hamstring);
- Gastrocnemius (Upper calf); and the
- Gluteus Maximus (Buttocks).
Hamstring Stretching Safety Guidelines
As with most activities there are rules and guidelines to ensure that they are safe. Stretching is no exception. Stretching can be extremely dangerous and harmful if done incorrectly. It is vitally important that the following guidelines be adhered to, both for safety and for maximizing the potential benefits of stretching.
- Breathe. Don’t hold your breath. Holding your breath can raise your blood pressure, if you do suffer from high blood pressure. In any event, it makes you more tense. The deeper you breathe, the more relaxed you are, the deeper and longer you will be able to stretch.
- Never force a stretch beyond the point of mild discomfort. Stretching tight muscles will be uncomfortable, but you should never feel any sharp or sudden pain. If you do, stop immediately; you are pushing yourself too far.
- Be consistent. Stretching for a few minutes each day will gradually build flexibility and range of motion. This is far preferable to stretching only once a week for a longer time.
- Wear loose comfortable clothing. It’s obviously very difficult to stretch if your clothes are tight and restrict movement.
Stretching Alignment and Proper Hamstring Stretching
The position of your hip, leg and foot are vitally important for effective hamstring stretching. Positioning your body in the wrong way can lead to imbalances within the individual muscle groups, which can lead to injury. Watch the video below to see how to align your body for proper hamstring stretching.
Transcript from video (click to open)
The other day, I got asked to go join a running group, which I did and I tagged along with this running group. Turned up at five o’clock in the morning and there’s probably about 20 or 25 people there and we headed out for a run. Now normally when I join a new group, I just like to sort of hang at the back, have a chat with a few people, get to know the people in the group, get to know what the group is about and so forth. So anyway, jogging along and there’s about five or six of us at the back of the group and one of the guys started telling one of the ladies about how it’s important to keep your foot up when you’re doing a hamstring stretch. And he was talking about the alignment of the hamstring and the alignment of the foot. So I’m running along listening to this (he had no idea who I was or what I do), and I thought to myself, this is just fantastic. This is exactly what I started all this writing and all my career basically. You know, over 20 years ago, 25 years ago I wanted to get people talking about stretching and flexibility and it was such a buzz to hear this guy and he wasn’t a coach or a trainer or anything.
He was just a general average Joe having a run with a few of his mates and he was just giving some advice about how to stretch properly and how to get more out of his stretching. And I thought, that was just fantastic that someone like that was, you know, talking about stretching and flexibility and bringing it into mainstream conversations about health and fitness. So that was a big buzz for me the other day and it was, you know, and whether I had anything directly to do with him talking about alignment and stretching and flexibility, probably not, but in some small way I’d like to think that I contributed. So that was a real buzz for me.
So what I wanted to just spend a couple of minutes talking about was alignment. And you know, he was making the point how important it is to keep your foot up while you’re doing the hamstring stretch. But I want to go on from there so what I might do is I’m actually going to show you what he was talking about. So I’m just going to zoom out so you can see a little bit more. I’m going to stand up and show you a hamstring stretch and proper alignment. Just move the chair out of the way. So what this guy was talking about, he was talking about doing a hamstring stretch and making sure your foot is placed in a way so that it’s straight up and down.
Now, why do that? Because a lot of times I see people do a hamstring stretch and they let their foot fall out to the side, so why is it important to keep that foot up? Well, the hamstrings and the calves are not just one big muscle. They’re actually made up of a lot of smaller muscles. And what happens is, if you let your foot fall out the side you put emphasis on only one part of the hamstring muscle or only one part of the calf. So if you do this repeatedly, over and over again what you end up with is an imbalance. An imbalance between the outside of the hamstrings and the inside of the hamstrings or one side of the calf and the other side of the calf.
So it really is important that you keep the foot nice up and down so that everything’s in alignment. And this was one of the things I wrote about back in 1995 when I published my first book. So it’s great to see someone talking about it in, you know, everyday conversation with someone else. So that’s really important. The other thing that’s really important is the hip alignment. Now, it’s important to keep your hips at a 90-degree angle to your hamstrings. Again, why is that important? Because as I see a lot of people do and they’ll turn the hips out like this so they’ll do the hamstring stretch out to the side. Well, what that does is that places an emphasis on the inside or the medial side of the hamstring. So the medial side of the hamstring and the groin gets a great stretch but the outside gets neglected. And again, if you do this repeatedly over time you create this imbalance between the inside of your hamstring and the outside of your hamstring. So it’s important to keep those hips nice and square.
But I want to go on and take one step further from that, not only is it important to look after your alignment and make sure everything’s lined up properly but it’s also important to vary your alignment. So, while it’s not a good idea to stretch with your hips open like this all the time it is a great idea to vary your stretching so, sometimes you’re stretching with your hips open so you’re putting that emphasis on the medial side or inside your hamstrings. But it’s also important to stretch those hips closed off so move the leg across this way and then that places the emphasis on the outside or the lateral side of your hamstrings. So you’re getting an emphasis on not only straight down the middle, but you’re also getting an emphasis on the inside and the outside and you can do this with a lot of muscle groups.
You can do it with the calves out for example. So in that case, I’ll just take my shoe off so you can see a little bit better, but with the calf, what you can do is you can start off with your foot nice up and down everything in alignment but then sure, let it drop out to the side and give a little stretch then turn it to the inside and give a little stretch that way. It’s also a good idea you can invert your foot. So turning your foot in this way but then also turning your foot out in that way. So while alignment is really important, it’s really good to keep everything nice and square and in line don’t be afraid to vary the position so you’re emphasizing different parts of that muscle group.
So anyway, that’s my tip for this week. Make sure you’re conscious of your alignment and talk to people about stretching and flexibility if you have the opportunity. Talk with people, chat with people, pass on what you learned from me. Pass on to other people around you and hopefully, they’ll benefit from it as well. So thanks very much for watching. Take care. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye for now.
Sample Hamstring Stretches
Slowly move into the stretch position until you feel a tension of about 7 out of 10. If you feel pain or discomfort you’ve pushed the stretch too far; back out of the stretch immediately. Hold the stretch position for 20 to 30 seconds while relaxing and breathing deeply. Come out of the stretch carefully and perform the stretch on the opposite side if necessary. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
Important: Keep your back straight! It’s very important that you keep your back straight and your head up while doing the following hamstring stretches. This will help to isolate and specifically target your hamstring muscles.
Sample Hamstring Stretching Videos
Below you’ll find a few good stretches for your hamstrings. But don’t rely on just a few stretches; it’s important to do a range of stretches for the hips, buttocks, groin and calf. Please be careful, if you haven’t stretched your hamstring muscles, some of these stretches will put a lot of stress on the hamstring tendons. Warm-up first, then proceed in a gradual and gently way.
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Research and References
- Walker, B. (2011). The Anatomy of Stretching, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1583943717)
- Wikipedia contributors. (2019, May 8). Hamstring, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
- Jones, O. (May 2, 2018). Muscles in the Posterior Compartment of the Thigh. Retrieved May 16, 2019, from https://teachmeanatomy.info/lower-limb/muscles/thigh/hamstrings/.
- Medeiros, D. Cini, A. Sbruzzi, G. Lima, C. (2016). Influence of static stretching on hamstring flexibility in healthy young adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 32(6):438-445.
- Bandy, W. Irion, J. Briggler, M. (1998). The Effect of Static Stretch and Dynamic Range of Motion Training on the Flexibility of the Hamstring Muscles. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 27(4) 295–300.
- Worrell, T. Smith, T. Winegardner, J. (1994). Effect of Hamstring Stretching on Hamstring Muscle Performance. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 20(3) 154–159.
- O’Sullivan, K. Murray, E. Sainsbury, D. (2009). The effect of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 10:37.
- Fasen, J. O’Connor, A. Schwartz, S. Watson, J. Plastaras, C. Garvan, C. Bulcao, C. Johnson, S. Akuthota, V. (2009). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Hamstring Stretching: Comparison of Four Techniques. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(2) 660-667.
- Castellote-Caballero, Y. Valenza, M. Puentedura, E. Fernández-de-las-Peñas, C. Alburquerque-Sendín, F. (2014). Immediate effects of neurodynamic sliding versus muscle stretching on hamstring flexibility in subjects with short hamstring syndrome. Journal of Sports Medicine, Article ID 127471.
- Cayco, C. Labro, A. Gorgon, E. (2016). Effects of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation on hamstrings flexibility in adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Physiotherapy Journal, 102(1) e190.
About the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.