Tight Hamstrings? Here’s Why & The 3 Best Poses For A Deep Yoga Hamstring Stretch

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Tight hamstrings? You’re in the right place.

For most of us, tight hamstrings aren’t a life sentence. By incorporating certain lifestyle changes along with some yoga hamstring stretches, you’ll be on the right path to supple hamstrings.

In this article we are going to cover:

  • What the hamstrings are
  • How to know if your hamsrtrings are tight
  • The causes of tight hamstrings
  • The risks associated with tight hamstrings
  • And 3 yoga hamstring stretches to relieve tight muscles

Ready to loosen up?

Let’s get into it!

man clutching his hamstring

What are the hamstrings?

The hamstrings are actually tendons (or strong bands of tissue) positioned at the back of the thighs. Their role is to attach the large thigh muscle to the bone.

However, the term “hamstring” also refers to the group of three muscles that run down the back of your thigh, from your hip to just beneath your knee.

How Do you know if your hamstrings are tight?

If you’ve got tight hamstrings you probably know about it. You most likely feel a soreness or stiffness down the backs of your thighs, and tying your shoelaces or reaching down to pick something up feel intense, stuff, or uncomfortable.

woman sitting down in sports clothes holding her hamstring

What causes tight hamstrings?

So you have tight hamstrings. But why do you have tight hamstrings?

There are a few reasons why your hamstrings may be tight.

Let’s have a look at 8 key reasons:

  • Too Much Sitting In Chairs When seated in a chair, your knees stay bent, meaning that your hamstrings remained in a shortened, contracted position. That’s why, when seated for long periods, it can be healthy to mix up your position or get up for a quick stroll every 15 minutes or so.
  • Overuse – Common among athletes. Lots of leg-heavy physical activity such as running or cycling could tighten your hamstrings.
  • Muscle Compensation – Your hamstrings could be overcompensating for another weak muscle. Weak glutes or tight hip flexors are often culprits for tight hamstrings.
  • Injury – An injured hamstring could be tight. It is not uncommon for the body to tighten up the muscle to prevent it from becoming injured further.
  • Lower Back Problems Injuries to your lower back can put pressure on your sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve runs down your spine and legs, and spinal nerve pressure can cause the muscles in your legs to tighten.
  • Muscle Weakness – It may be that your hamstring is weak. Often, if this is the case, your nervous system may tighten the muscle for stability.
  • Genetics – You may just naturally have tight hamstrings. Some hamstrings are shorter than others. Ang generall, men will have tighter hamstrings than women.
  • Not Stretching After Exercise A good way to make your muscles sieze up is to not stretch them after exercise. Just 10 minutes should do.
man doing a hamstring stretch in the street

what are the risks associated with tight hamstrings?

Tight hamstrings are bad enough in themselves, but addressing them early could save you further strife, as tightness in your hamstrings can lead to a series of knock-on effects, including:

  • Opens You Up To More Injures When your muscles are tight, you may be risking a tear if you move in a way that stretches the muscle at speed.
  • Knee, Back, And Foot Pain – Having tight hamstrings can cause your pelvis to tilt backward, flattening the lower back, and as a knock-on effect contribute to back, knee, or foot pain.
  • Poor Posture – Tight hamstrings may be the cause of your poor posture!

When is a yoga hamstring stretch not helpful?

A good yoga hamstring stretch can be just what your tight hamstrings need, or it could not. It all depends on the root cause.

For example, if your hamstrings are tight because of muscle weakness, them stretching them will only make them weaker. If your hamstrings are weak, you are better off focusing on strengthening rather than stretching.

Take a look at our Strengthening Yoga Poses Library Here

woman doing a seated yoga hamstring stretch

It is a good idea to seek advice from a physio or medical professional who will be able to take a look at your individual case and advise you on your best course of action, whether that be with a focus on stretching, or strengthening.

3 Best yoga hamstring stretches

Aside from avoiding long sedentary periods and addressing any injuries or imbalances your body may have, stretching is a great way to lengthen and bring relief to stubbornly tight hamstrings.

#1: Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)

Let gravity do the work in this forward fold. Not only will you feel a fantastic stretch through your hamstrings, but also down your entire back body.

yoga class doing a standing forward bend

How To Get There:

1. Begin at the top of your mat in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your hands resting by your sides.

2. Gently micro-bend your knees and, on an exhale, hinge at your hips to fold your torso down over your thigh bones.

3. Drift your hands down to the mat. They may be able to comfortably rest on the earth, equally, they could hang loosely. Don’t force yourself into an uncomfortable position just to touch the mat. Respect where you are in your practice today.

4. Inhale and create length in your spine. Exhale, straighten your legs, and lift your kneecaps up your thighs.

5. Find length in your neck, and extend the crown of your head down towards the earth.

Tips, Tricks, & Variations:

  • Bend your knees. If the stretch in your hamstrings feels too intense, go ahead and bend your knees.
  • Clasp your elbows. Clasp each elbow with the opposite hand and let your head hang loose, releasing your neck. Swaying side to side here will allow for a generous stretch down your entire back body and hamstrings.
  • Peddle your knees. Peddling your legs by bending one knee at a time may feel really good here. This dynamic variation of a forward bend will warm up your hamstrings. Peddle your legs out for a few seconds before dropping into a more static forward fold.

#2: Half Splits Pose (Ardha Hanumanasana)

woman doing a yoga hamstring stretch on a mat

This yoga hamstring stretch is intense, but don’t be intimidated by the word splits!

Don’t force this one, stay conscious of your breath, and if it feels painful at any point, come out of the pose.

How To Get There:

1. Begin in a Low Lunge Pose with your right foot forward with your right knee stacked above your right ankle, and your left knee on the mat.

2. Shift your hips backward. Straighten your front leg but don’t lock it (keep a micro bend). Bend your back leg.

3. Flex your right foot towards your face, and rest your hands on the mat in the space underneath your shoulders.

4. Engage the quadricep in your front leg by drawing your kneecap upwards. Lengthen your torso, and engage your abs.

5. With a flat back, fold your upper body over your front leg for a deeper stretch. Breathe.

6. Release, and repeat the pose on the other side.

Tips, Tricks & Variations:

  • Bringing your hands to the mat can be very intense, especially if your hamstrings are tight. The good news is that you can bring the earth to you by using yoga blocks. And if you don’t have yoga blocks, a chunky book or two is equally as good.
  • Avoid rounding or hunching the spine in Half Split. Try to hinge at the hips and lead with the chest. This may mean that you are in a more upright position. This is all good.
  • If you feel that there is too much pressure in your back knee, fold your yoga mat over or roll up a blanket for some extra padding and support.
  • Ensure your hips stay parallel in this pose. There is a tendency for the hip in the side of your forward leg to slide forwards. Stay conscious of this and draw the hip backward.

#3: Reclined Hand To Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)

woman doing a lying down yoga hamstring stretch

How To Get There:

1. Begin lying flat on your back.

2. Take a yoga strap or belt and loop it around the ball of your right foot, holding the long end of the strap or belt in your right hand with your arm outstretched towards your foot. Keep the strap tight.

3. Press your right foot up to the ceiling until you feel a stretch in your hamstring.

4. Make sure that your hips are even and that both sides of your butt are resting on the floor evenly.

5. Keep your raised foot flexed and push into the earth with your stabilizing leg.

6. Hold here breathing deeply.

7. To come out of this pose, hug your lifted knee in towards your chest before you lower it and repeat on the other side.

Tips, Tricks, And Variations:

  • Use a wall for stability by placing the ball of the foot of your lowered leg into a wall. It takes a surprising amount of core strength not to topple over in this pose.
  • Bend the lowered leg and place your foot firm on the mat for added stability.

Still feeling tight?

Have a rifle through our Yoga Poses For Flexibility Library, or check out our article on how yoga makes you more flexible:

Wondering how often to practice? We’ve got you covered.

Photo of author
Maria Andrews is a 200h Registered Yoga Teacher, long distance runner, and adventure lover.

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