Hamstring Stretches to Protect Your Pelvis and Lower Back, and Avoid Injury

Hamstring stretches are vital to your overall leg health, as well as the health and fitness of your lower back.

The hamstring is made up of 3 muscles:

  • Semitendinosus
  • Semimembranosus
  • Biceps Femoris

These muscles run down the back of the upper leg. They extend from the lower pelvis, down the upper leg, cross the knee joint, and connect at the lower leg (calf muscles). Your hamstrings are critical to basic functions such as walking and running, and overall mobility

Why Doctors Recommend Hamstring Stretches for Lower Back Health

When your hamstrings are tight, it creates a constant pulling tension on your pelvis, thus straining your lower back. This is why medical professionals recommend various hamstring stretches to relieve lower back pain. 

This continuous strain puts pressure on the lower back. As your hamstring “loosens” through proper stretching, it slowly alleviates that downward pressure and provides needed relief. Your lower back can then breathe as your hamstring becomes elongated and more supple!

See the photos below on the key to a proper stretch, as it is not what you would expect, and not what you hear from most athletic coaches. Well some you do, but only the good ones.

Hamstring Stretches

Like all stretching routines, hamstring stretches follow the all-important warm-up process.

Step 1: Warm-up With Light Cardio

  • Jumping jacks
  • Jogging in place

Step 2: Dynamic Stretches

  • Leg lunges
  • Standing knee raises
  • Light leg swings back and forth

Hamstring Anchor Stretch

Best Hamstring Stretches for Lower Back Pain

The hamstring anchor stretch is the most effective hamstring stretch you can perform, but it must be done correctly.

  1. Anchor one leg with the ankle/foot on a table, chair, or other object (see photo).

    Here is the key:  You want to move your upper body straight forward, and do not curl your torso down toward your knee.  Most people bend at the waste and curl their torso, moving their head in the direction of the knee. However, you want to keep your back relatively straight, and just move your upper body forward without dipping your head. This action really engages and isolates the hamstring. You will feel the stretch!

    (The photo below shows the most effective movement – moving your upper body straight forward, without curling the spine.)

  2. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
  3. Repeat with the other leg.

Hamstring Stretching

Seated Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring Stretch Benefits

  1. Sit on the floor, and extend both legs straight out in front of you. 
  2. In the same manner as the anchor stretch above, move the body forward but do not curl your torso down to your knee. Try to keep your torso mainly straight as shown above.  
  3. Move forward until you feel slight discomfort in your hamstrings, and hold for 20 seconds.
  4. Recover to the start position.
  5. Repeat the stretch 3-5 times.

Variation:

A good variation is to extend one leg, and curl the other leg by moving the foot to your upper leg (photo below). Use the same steps, and same general movement.  

Best Hamstring Stretch

Lying Hamstring Stretch

Lying Hamstring Stretch

  1. Lie on the floor with one leg up and the knee bent at a 90 degree angle. With your hands on your hamstring, pull your leg toward you. This creates the tension when you straighten your leg.
  2. Next straighten and extend the leg straight up.
  3. Straighten the leg until you feel a slight discomfort in your hamstring.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. 
  5. Perform stretch with other leg.

Assisted Hamstring Stretch 

Assisted Hamstring Stretch

  1. Lie on the floor and extend one leg straight up.
  2. Your partner will firmly hold your heel as shown, and slowly push the leg. 
  3. Keep your leg mainly straight until you feel a slight discomfort in your hamstring.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. 
  5. Perform stretch with other leg.

Benefits of Hamstring Stretches

Hamstring StretchesThere are many benefits to stretching your hamstring muscle:

  • Reduces your risk of injury
  • Improves circulation
  • Improve posture
  • Provides relief to your lower back (see below)

If you have ever suffered a lower back strain while doing back exercises, then your orthopedic likely recommended hamstring stretches. Doing daily hamstring stretches is one the most important things you can do to improve your lower back health and reduce the chance of injury. You might be thinking “This stretch will help my lower back…really?”

See more stretching routines for supple muscles, and overall great fitness routines. And find some more hamstring stretches here.

David Williams

David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David Williams is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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