Yoga for Healthy Hamstrings

Why do hamstrings get so commonly tight?

  1. Hamstrings are commonly tight in many people, not just in runners – because just sitting too much of the time means the hamstrings shorten and adapt to that contracted length.

What to do… Stand up more! If you have a desk job – stand, bend knees and fold forwards, with chest resting on thighs, gradually listing hips – do this several times a day. 

     2. Then there’s core strength. If your core strength is insufficient then the hamstrings will be trying to stabilise your pelvis, which is the job of the deeper abdominals and abductors!! This leads to over contraction of the hamstrings. 

What to do… Make sure you’re doing regular, targeted core strengthening. One of my favourites is the toes taps, as this also builds coordination and pelvic strength (not suitable if you have tight hip flexors though). Watch my 5 favourite core exercises here.

     3. If you’re a runner, then a certain amount of hamstring tension is useful because we want them to be strong and powerful – however, too much hamstring tightness is going to limit the motion of the pelvis, causing flexion in the spine and loss of core stabilisation! And the Numero Uno   consideration for runners should be good posture, which is maintained with core strength.

What to do… Core strengthening, as above, plus hamstring lengthening…

Test and re-lengthen the hamstrings…

Hamstring test on back – lie flat on your back, draw one knee in to your chest and hold behind the thigh. Slowly start to straighten – the leg should go up to at least 70 degrees, with only a mild stretch. If you can feel more, or the leg doesn’t want to come that high, then there is some work to do!

To improve:

  • take this position every day – bend the knee and straighten the leg several times, gradually straightening the leg a little more each time.
  • use a strap to help keep the leg up, relaxed for around 3 minutes.
  • resist the strap by pushing the ball of your foot into it for 5 long breaths, then relax for 5. Repeat 3 times. (This resisting is eccentric contraction, and can also be useful in healing hamstring strains. Do not stretch the hamstrings when there is a strain!*)

Watch these strap exercises, plus more for the hamstrings, in this 17 minute video.

Watch the Tutorial

If you’re aware of tight hamstrings, then now is the time to start doing something about it! Watch a video tutorial of this content in the latest video in the Yoga Flow Runners Facebook group, here. 

*If you have a hamstring strain or tear, don’t stretch it. Focus on eccentric contraction only, which I describe in the video tutorial.

In this video I also discuss how many runners are running ‘quad dominant’, meaning the quadriceps are over-powering the hamstrings, leaving the quads too tight and the hamstrings too weak. This will be the topic of focus in the next blogpost!