1 of 8 Hamstring Stretches
Hamstrings and Pelvic Positioning
The hamstring muscle group located at the back of your thigh and pelvis (at the very bottom) is partly responsible for a well-aligned pelvic position. But what does this have to do with your low back?
The hamstrings are one of 4 muscle groups that attach both on the pelvis and on the upper portion of the bones of the lower leg. When any (or all) of these hip muscles contract, one possible result is that the pelvis is tilted toward the back of the thigh.
The exact direction (i.e. forward toward the front of the thigh, backward toward the back of the thigh, down and toward one side, etc.,) depends on where that muscle lives.
In the case of the hamstrings, the pelvis is brought toward the back of the thigh, because that’s where the hamstrings are located (as mentioned above.)
You can likely see from this explanation that hip muscles, hamstrings included, have the capacity to alter – and in some cases correct – the position of the pelvis.
Related: Learn More About Hamstrings
Pelvic Positioning and Back Pain – The Case for Hamstring Stretching
But the question still remains – what does all this have to do with back pain?
Well, the spine is anchored in between the two hip bones in back. (The two hip bones together comprise the pelvis.) The pelvis is bigger than the spine so when it moves, the spine generally moves along with it.
When your hamstrings are chronically contracted they keep the pelvis pulled down in back. This in turn pulls the low back out of alignment by flattening its normal lordotic arch – which can overstretch and or weaken your back muscles.
Without a balanced position of your pelvis and proper support from the muscles in the area, low back pain is possible. Chronically tight hamstring muscles can play a role in other back problems as well.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few ways to “stretch the strings” as I like to say – whether you’re a rank beginner or an accomplished athlete. Slide on for options.
2 of 8 Hamstring Stretch – Toe Touching
Touch Your Toes – Stretch Your Hamstring Muscles
One way to stretch your hamstrings is with good ‘ole toe touching. I remember doing this exercise everyday in my high school physical education class. Since then, though, the rules have changed a bit, informed by research, yoga and common sense.
First, to release longstanding hamstring muscle tension, don’t bounce. Bouncing activates a mechanism called the stretch reflex which, to make a long story short, can result in more muscle contraction, not less.
Instead, hold the stretch for about 30 seconds at a comfortable, pain free level where it feels like something is “happening.” (You can apply this to all the hamstring stretch variations in the following pages, as well.)
Secondly, yoga informs us to lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling while we’re in this position. This elongates the hamstring muscles.
Third, make sure your hips are directly over your feet. The model in the picture above has her bum positioned behind her feet. This is a mistake many people make because they are not aware of their alignment. While it does make the stretch feel easy, when you do it this way, you are, in effect, “cheating.”
And finally, if you’ve not been regularly strengthening your ab muscles, you might consider skipping the toe touching altogether, or at the very least, substituting a prop, such as a table. A rule of thumb for your safety is: Only go as far as you can without back pain or a feeling of insecurity.
3 of 8 Supine Hamstring Stretch
4 of 8 Supine Hamstring Stretch for Beginners
5 of 8 Standing Hamstring Stretch
For whatever reason (maybe you’re pregnant, injured or in pain, for example) you might not feel comfortable getting down and up from the floor to do your hamstring stretches. What do do?
There’s the toe touching exercise described a few slides earlier, but as we discussed, to do this one well, you need to address a few alignment points as well as know when and how to modify the experience for your safety.
But if you’re just a “regular ‘ole” type exerciser, you can perform a one legged hamstring stretch from a standing position. Simply extend 1 leg out, and keeping your back straight, bend from your hip joints to bring your chest toward your thigh. The leg that’s not being stretched will also bend at the knee.
You don’t have to get all the way there to feel a stretch. Go only as far as you can without pain, strain or shakiness. If you need extra support, hold onto a piece of furniture or a wall.
6 of 8 Easy Hamstring Stretch for Athletes
7 of 8 Advanced Hamstring Stretch for Athletes
8 of 8 Partner Hamstring Stretching
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