“I don’t need to stretch my hamstrings” said no one ever! Even at the height of my dance career when I could kick my leg over my head, I was constantly stretching my hamstrings to maintain flexibility. Bad posture, sitting too long, and strain from physical activity can all contribute to tight hamstrings. Along with strengthening our body and taking frequent breaks from sitting at our desk, we have to stretch on a regular basis to loosen these easily tightened muscles. Static stretching can be hard since most people don’t like staying in one painful position for too long. Incorporating some movement into a stretch before holding it is a great way to warm up the muscles and get more out of a static stretch. Here are 5 mini yoga and Pilates-based stretch sequences guaranteed to loosen the tightest of hamstrings.
Forward Fold– Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Soften your knees and fold forward placing your hands on the floor. If you cannot reach the floor, let your arms hang or grab onto each elbow. Start slowly swaying your hips side to side, straightening one knee at a time. Push into each hip to loosen all the muscles on that side. After about a minute, straighten both legs being careful not to hyper extend the knees. Slide your hands up your shins as you lift the upper body up just enough to flatten out your back. Inhale to do this and lengthen the spine. Exhale to reach with your core muscles back down into the full fold. Repeat 5-6 times aiming to touch your stomach to your thighs with each exhale. You may choose to hold the static stretch of the forward fold at the end of this sequence.
Scissor Stretch– Stand with your legs together and step one foot back several feet from the front foot. Bend forward like you did in the forward fold reaching your hands to either side of your front leg. Keep your hips square as you do this. Lift your back heel up to rock forward onto the front straight leg. Lower the heel back down and repeat up to 10 times. Stay down on the last rep and turn your back foot out to turn out your back hip. This will access a different angle of your muscles. Turn the foot back in to parallel and continue to do this 10 times. Bring both feet back together and repeat on the other side.
Half Split– Kneel on one leg and straighten the other leg in front of you with square hips and a flexed foot. Make sure your hip is directly over the knee of the supporting leg. Place one hand on either side of the straight leg and fold forward reaching your nose to your knee. Drop your head, round your spine and point your tailbone to the ground as you inhale. Exhale to lengthen the spine folding forward again and repeat this sequence with the breathing 10 times. After you are done, walk your hands to either side of your front leg to stretch different angles.
Saw– Sit in a wide straddle position with your knees and toes facing the ceiling. Straighten your arms out to each side with your back straight and shoulder blades pulled down. Pull your navel into your spine as you inhale and twist your torso to the right. Anchor your left hip down into the ground as you do this to keep your hips square. Exhale reach with your abs to saw your pinky toe off with your left pinky finger. Your right arm reaches behind you pulling in opposition to the left. Return to center and repeat on the other side. Do 5 on each side.
Single Leg Stretch (band or strap optional)- Lie on your back and straighten one leg up to the sky. Reach the other leg long making sure to engage the hamstring and hip to anchor that side to the ground. Use either your hands around your leg or a strap around your foot to bend and straighten the top leg to the ceiling. Do this 5 times. On the last rep keep your leg straight and turn the hip in and out several times. Hold the leg up in the air with your hands now placed by your sides or you may keep the strap over your foot for assistance. Keep your core engaged to perform the next set of dynamic stretches. Inhale as you circle the leg down and exhale to complete the circle bringings the leg back up. Do 5 in each direction and then repeat the entire sequence on the other side.
Tight hamstrings not only prevent one from doing high kicks and splits, they can also create and exacerbate back and knee pain. Regular stretching is vital to our health and mobility. How often do you stretch your hamstrings?
Also by Crystal: Sculpt Your Summer Bod With These Do-Anywhere Bodyweight Exercises
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