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:
- 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.
Benefits of Hamstring Stretches
There 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?”
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 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 certainly not what you hear from most athletic coaches. Well, some you do, but only the good ones.
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
The hamstring anchor stretch is the most effective hamstring stretch you can perform, but it must be done correctly.
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 it.
Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
Hamstring Floor Stretch – Sitting
Sit on the floor, and extend one leg straight out. Curl the other leg by moving the foot to your upper leg (photo). In the same manner as the anchor stretch above, move the body forward but do not curl your torso down to your knee. Move forward until you feel slight discomfort, and hold for 20 seconds.
Hamstring Floor Stretch – Lying Flat
Lie on the floor near a corner or pole, and extend one leg straight up, with a slight bend, against the wall. Slowly try to straighten your leg until you feel slight discomfort – hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Perform stretch with other leg.