Whether you're a runner, a yogi, or a HIIT enthusiast like I am, you probably already know the importance of keeping your hamstrings flexible. After all, too-tight hamstrings can not only impair your athletic performance, it can also lead to injuries, and nobody wants that!
Below are my four favorite stretches you can do to increase your hamstring flexibility. Try to do the stretches at least three or four times a week for best results, cycling through each two to three times per stretching session.
And as with all static stretches, make sure you’re not starting your stretching session while completely cold —you should always do a very short warmup beforehand to avoid injury. Think a few push ups, jumping jacks, or air squats — just enough to make sure your body starts feeling a little bit warmer (hence the term "warm up").
1. Forward bend
Many of you already probably do forward stretches fairly often already, especially if, like me, you grew up playing organized sports (it was one of the regulars). But don't discount it — it’s still one of the most effective hamstring stretches you can do.
To do a forward bend, stand up straight then lean over as far as you can while keeping your legs as straight as possible and avoiding bending your knees. If putting your palms on the floor isn’t quite enough for you, you can always stand on a higher surface or hug your legs to get a deeper stretch. Hold for about 30 seconds.
You can also do this stretch while seated, although for more flexible people standing will usually be more effective.
2. Standing straight kicks
Standing straight kicks are a fantastic, dynamic stretch that you can do any time to really help loosen up your hamstrings. I like to do them as part of a quick warm up before my HIIT workout to make sure my muscles are good and ready before I start asking them to work really hard.
To do them, stand up straight, then kick one leg straight in front of you while keeping your standing leg as straight as you can (I’m still working on my bottom leg being straighter, so don’t worry if yours doesn’t stay completely straight at first). Flex your foot towards you as you kick, and slowly work up to kicking higher and higher so you feel a good stretch. Try and do 10 to 20 on each leg.
And if balancing on one leg while kicking is too tough for you at first, just hold onto a wall or a chair while you do it — you’ll still get a good stretch.
3. Standing pike stretch
Another version of the basic forward bend, the standing pike stretch is a great one for loosening up your hamstrings. I’ll warn you ahead of time though, if you’ve got tight hamstrings (like most people do), this one’s going to hurt at first — but it’s worth it!
To do it, stand in front of a wall with your feet together, then lean over crossing your arms above your head and push your upper back against the wall. Slowly slide yourself down the wall while keeping your legs straight, aiming to hold for about 30 seconds total. The closer you are to the wall, the deeper the stretch will be.
4. Forward split
Not surprisingly, one of the best all time stretches for hamstrings is the front split. And if you think you’ll never be able to do a split, don’t write this one off totally — with time and patience you can get there (it took me nearly a year before I could do them). But even just practicing a split will help increase your hamstring flexibility.
To do these, start by kneeling on one leg with your back leg straightened as much as possible behind you. Square your hips, then slowly ease yourself into your back leg so that you feel a stretch in your hips.
Next, bend your back leg so you’re no longer stretching your hips, and instead straighten your front leg. Lean down towards your leg so that you feel a deep stretch in your hamstring.
Last, try and straighten both legs as much as possible so that you’re in as low of a front split as you can get into, holding for about 30 seconds before switching sides. Don’t worry if you’re not even close to the floor yet—your main goal for now should be to feel a good stretch in both your hips and hamstrings.
Just like anything else you work at, if you’re consistent and work hard at it, you can do a split, no matter how impossible it seems now.