People who participate in sports that involve running or sprinting are prone to developing tightness or injury in their hamstrings. Various exercises can reduce tightness and lower the risk of injury.

A female stretching after exercise.Share on Pinterest
SolStock/Getty Images

The hamstrings refer to three different muscles in the back of the thigh that run from the hip to the knee. This muscle group helps us walk, run, and jump.

Because people use their hamstrings in everyday movements, it is important to keep these muscles loose. Stretching will help people avoid strains and muscle tears.

In addition, sometimes a person may feel tightness in the hamstring due to issues with the sciatic nerve. A person should speak to their doctor to determine an underlying cause of the tightness.

This article discusses seven of the best hamstring stretches and their benefits. It also looks at the best times to do these stretches and how often a person should do them.

Hamstring stretches will help keep the muscles flexible and mobile. These stretches should not cause pain. A person should only stretch until there is mild to moderate tension. Flexibility will improve over time, and people should avoid overstretching, as this can cause injury.

A person can use the following stretches to loosen muscle tightness in the hamstrings:

1. Lying hamstring stretch

  1. Lie flat on either the ground or a mat with the legs fully stretched out.
  2. To stretch the right leg, hold the back of the right knee with both hands, pull the leg up toward the chest, and slowly straighten the knee until it feels as though it is stretching.
  3. Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds.

2. Lying hamstring stretch using a strap

Lying hamstring stretch using strap. Image credit: bwanderd, 2012
Image credit: bwanderd, 2012

  1. Lie flat on either the ground or a mat with the legs fully stretched out.
  2. To stretch the right leg, bend the right leg and place the strap across the ball of the right foot.
  3. Hold the strap in both hands.
  4. Keep the left leg extended on the ground with the foot flexed. This should push the thigh and calf toward the floor.
  5. Slowly extend the right leg with the foot flexed. The right leg should be straight with a slight bend in the knee, and the bottom of the foot should face the ceiling.
  6. Gently pull the strap until there is a slight tension in the hamstrings.
  7. Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds.
  8. Repeat two to four times.

3. Lying hamstring stretch using a wall

  1. Find an open doorway.
  2. Lie flat on either the ground or a mat, with the back flat and the left leg fully extended on the floor. The left leg should pass through the doorway.
  3. Lean the right leg against the wall next to the doorway.
  4. Adjust the distance between the body and the wall to achieve mild tension in the right leg.
  5. Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds.
  6. Repeat three times.

4. Sitting hamstring stretch

  1. To stretch the right leg, sit on the ground with the left leg bent at the knee with the foot facing inward. This is called the butterfly position.
  2. Extend the right leg, keeping it slightly bent at the knee.
  3. Bend forward at the waist, making sure to keep the back straight.
  4. Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds.
  5. Repeat two to three times.

5. Sitting hamstring stretch using a chair

Gif of sitting hamstring stretch using chair. Image credit: Cooldown, 2012.
Image credit: Cooldown, 2012.

  1. Sit with the back straight near the edge of the chair.
  2. Keep the feet flat on the floor.
  3. To stretch the right leg, straighten it with the heel on the floor and the toes pointing toward the ceiling.
  4. Bend forward at the hip and place the hands on the left leg for support.
  5. Make sure the spine is in a neutral position.
  6. Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds.
  7. Repeat two to four times.

6. Standing hamstring stretch

  1. Stand upright with the spine in a neutral position.
  2. Place the right leg in front of the body with the foot flexed, the heel pushed into the ground, and the toe pointing toward the ceiling.
  3. Slightly bend the left knee.
  4. Gently lean forward and place the hands on the straight right leg.
  5. Keep a neutral spine.
  6. Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds.
  7. Repeat two to four times.

7. Standing hamstring stretch using a table

  1. Find a table that is just shorter than hip height.
  2. Stand upright with the spine in a neutral position.
  3. Place the right leg on the table with the foot flexed, so the toes point toward the ceiling. Stand far enough away from the table so that only the foot and part of the calf rest on the table.
  4. Bend forward at the waist until there is a stretch in the hamstring muscle.
  5. To increase the intensity of the stretch, bend forward slightly, placing the hands on the leg or the table for support.
  6. Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds.
  7. Wait 15 seconds then repeat three times.

8. Foam roll hamstring stretch

  1. Sit on the floor with the legs stretched straight
  2. Place the foam roll flat under the hamstring of one leg and fold the other leg with the foot flat on the floor.
  3. Raise the buttocks up off the mat while maintaining balance with the hands flat on the floor
  4. Move the body back and forth in long, sweeping movements, stopping just short of the back of the knee.
  5. Lightly twist the thigh to make sure the roller goes over the right, left, and middle of the hamstring muscle

Hamstring stretches can keep the hamstrings loose and flexible. Flexible hamstrings have many benefits, such as:

Preventing lower back pain

Tight hamstrings reduce the mobility of the pelvis, which can put pressure on the lower back. Strengthening and stretching the hamstrings can prevent them from becoming too tight and provide extra support for the back and pelvis.

Reducing injuries

Keeping the hamstrings loose will lower the chance of straining or tearing the muscle fibers during strenuous physical activities, such as running.

Increasing flexibility

Hamstring stretches can increase flexibility and improve the range of motion in the hip. Both of these benefits will help people perform daily tasks, such as walking upstairs and bending over, with ease.

Improving posture

When the hamstrings are too tight, the muscles rotate the pelvis backward. This can flatten the natural arch in the back, which can cause poor seated and standing posture. Keeping the hamstrings loose can help people sit straighter and stand taller.

People should aim to stretch the muscles in their body, including the hamstrings, daily. Even a few minutes of daily stretching can improve a person’s overall mobility.

If someone experiences lasting tightness in their hamstrings, they should consider speaking to their healthcare professional. Persistent tightness in the hamstrings may suggest that the muscles are overlengthened.

In these cases, stretching will not help, and the person should instead focus on strengthening their hamstrings.

A good time to practice hamstring stretches is before and after excising.

People should always warm up before exercising. During a warmup, people increase their heart rate by walking or jogging. Elevating the heart rate gets the blood pumping through the body, which supplies the muscles with oxygen. This improves exercise performance and reduces a person’s risk of injury.

People should stretch after the warmup. If the muscles are not properly warmed up, stretching may strain or even tear the muscle fibers.

The effectiveness of stretching before exercise is still up for debate. Some studies suggest that there are no physical benefits of warmup stretches, and there are mixed opinions regarding whether or not pre-exercise stretches can prevent injury.

However, athletic activities such as dance and gymnastics will require stretching beforehand to improve flexibility.

Stretching after exercise helps relieve muscle tension, as well as helps relieve pain in the lower back. This may help the muscles recover faster and reduce pain after a workout.

Hamstring stretches are beneficial for athletes as well as for people who are not athletes or do not play sports. Stretching each day can improve blood flow and keep the muscles energized and loose.

If a person finds that doing regular hamstring stretches does not help relieve tightness, and this tightness feels chronic, seeking additional treatment is a good idea. This may include:

Getting a massage may help relieve tightness in the hamstrings. However, there are different types of massage and not every technique may be suitable.

A person should always consult their doctor before trying any massage technique to relieve tight muscles. A person should also make sure that they visit a licensed massage therapist experienced in the particular modality.

Physical therapy may be appropriate if a person’s muscle tightness is tied to an injury like a muscle strain or there is a restricted range of motion.

Doing physical therapy may involve elements of massage, as well as doing some stretching exercises, but under the supervision of a physical therapist.

The therapist may also have the person do strengthening exercises. Other therapy methods the physical therapist may use include dry needling.

The following are answers to some common questions about tight hamstrings.

Why are my hamstrings so tight?

Causes of tight hamstrings include prolonged sitting, insufficient stretching before physical activity, muscle strain or another injury, and having short hamstrings or other physical characteristics that make hamstring strain more likely.

How long does it take to loosen tight hamstrings?

If a person commits to a regular therapy program, it may take a few weeks to a few months to relieve the tightness. The time it takes can depend on the degree of tightness and the cause.

How many times a day should I stretch my hamstrings?

It is best to stretch the hamstrings at least daily and when possible more than once.

While the benefits of stretching before and after workouts are up for debate, stretching is good for overall health, as it improves flexibility and prevents injury.

Stretching the hamstrings will help keep these muscles loose and flexible, which will improve posture, increase flexibility, and prevent lower back pain.