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How to stretch your hamstrings the right way

How to stretch your hamstrings the right way

Written by:  Paul Kochoa, PT, DPT, OCS, CKTP

If you exercise regularly, there’s probably a good chance that you’ve stretched out your hamstrings.  These are the muscles behind your legs that bend your knee, but they also extend your hip.  The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that start at the bottom part of your pelvis and insert below your knee joint.  Since they start on the pelvis and cross the hip and knee joint, stretching this muscle group correctly means making sure you check your position at all these places.

The hamstring starts at the base of the pelvis, called the ischial tuberosity, it’s basically the bone that you sit on.  From here the hamstrings goes down the back of the leg and inserts on a couple points just below your knee joint.  So the actions of this muscle can produce bending of the knee and straightening of the hip.

One could say that stretching the hamstring isn’t all that hard, all you do is keep your knee straight and then bend over and touch your toes.  Certainly, this has been the classic way of stretching a hamstring.  But this way of just bending over can cause a stretch in other places and not where you need it the most.  When your sit or stand and bend over to touch your toes, you may feel it at the hamstring, but for some people with especially tight hamstrings, you may be stretching out the back instead.

Since the hamstring is connected to the pelvis, it basically can pull your pelvis, along with your back, into a flexed position when you do the traditional hamstring stretch.  Just like when you stretch a rubber band, you have to make sure both ends of the band are properly stabilized to stretch it correctly.  Next time, try stabilizing the pelvis and back to get a better hamstring stretch.

Whether you sit or stand while doing this, the principles are the same: straighten the knee while keeping the back extended and pelvis tilted forward.  Think of your pelvis like a bucket of water.  If you tilt it forward spilling the water in the front, this is called an “anterior tilt”.  If you tilt it backward spilling the water in the back, this is called a “posterior tilt”.  Your back becomes flexed with a posterior tilt and extended with an anterior tilt.  Stretching the hamstring properly means stabilizing the ends of the muscle, and that means an anterior tilt to the pelvis with an extended back.

Start with your back as straight as possible, you may feel some tension in the lower back muscles, but this places your pelvis in an anteriorly tilted position.  Now place your foot out in front of you, but keep your knee bent, with no stretch in the hamstring.  From here, straighten your knee slowly, while keeping that back extended and pelvis tilted.  As you straighten your knee, you’ll start to feel the stretch in the hamstring.  As with any other stretch, avoid pain and hold the stretch position for 30 seconds.

Any questions or comments?  Feel free to drop a comment here or ask your friendly neighborhood movement specialist.  (That’ll be your physiotherapist.)

If you would like more information, please call Professional Physical Therapy and Training at 973-270-7417.  Our offices are located within the YMCA locations in Madison and Summit, NJ.  You do not need to be a member of the YMCA to visit with us.

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