When your hamstrings (the back of your legs) are tight, they may not only stop you from doing these types of fun and advanced exercises, they can also cause unnecessary pain and even injuries. That’s why working on your hamstring flexibility and foam rolling on a regular basis is so important—especially if you work out a lot like I do.
If you hate and/or procrastinate stretching on a regular basis, trust me, I understand. Stretching is not something I look forward to, partly because it just plain hurts! But, it’s incredibly important to do to keep your muscles healthy and injury-free, and will definitely help you improve at certain exercises as well.
Note: Always remember to warm up before doing any type of static stretching so you don’t end up hurting yourself. A little jump roping, some air squats and a few push ups or bear crawls will be plenty. Here’s more about how to do a proper warm up.
Here are the 5 best stretches for really tight hamstrings:
Standing Straight Kicks
Standing straight kicks are a great dynamic stretch you can do any time to really help loosen up your hamstrings. I like to do them as part of my warm up or randomly when I’m just standing around (yes, I get weird looks sometimes, but I’m used to it by now).
How to do it: From standing, kick one leg up while keeping your standing leg as straight as you can (I’m still working on my bottom leg being straighter). Flex your foot as you kick, and slowly work up to kicking higher and higher until you feel a good stretch. Go easy and don’t push it.
If the balance part of this one is too tough for you at first, just hold onto a wall or a chair or something while you do it.
I’m guessing this one isn’t really new to any of you—if you’re anything like me, you’ve been doing forward bends since you were in elementary school sports. But it’s still one of the most effective hamstring stretches you can do!
How to do it: Stand straight then lean over as far as you can while keeping your legs straight. If you need more of a stretch then just putting your palms on the floor, you can stand on a higher surface or hug your legs to get a deeper stretch.
You can also do this stretch while seated, or use a band for a greater stretch.
Standing Pike Stretch
This one definitely looks (and feels) a little weird, but it’s crazy effective. I’ve been trying to do this one pretty often lately and it’s definitely helped with my front splits and overall hamstring flexibility.
How to do it: Stand in front of a wall with your feet together, then lean over while crossing your arms above your head and pushing your upper back against the wall. Slowly slide yourself down the wall while keeping your legs straight. The close you are to the wall, the deeper the stretch will be.
If you’ve ever done yoga, you’re already very familiar with the downward dog stretch—it’s a great stretch for your hamstrings, calves, and shoulders.
How to do it: Get into a plank position with your palms flat on the ground and your feet hip-width apart. Lift your hips up and back until your body is in an upside down V shape. Relax your head and neck then reach your heels toward the ground as you feel a stretch.
Hands down, one of the best all time stretches for hamstrings is the front split. If you can’t do these, don’t get discouraged—it may take you a while, but you can do it. I honestly thought that it was physically impossible for me to do a split until I started actually working on them a little while ago and was able to do a front split within just a few months of practicing.
Check out this post on the split series to learn how to work up to doing a front split. It’s not impossible, trust me!
If you want to be more flexible and get injured less, there’s really only one option: to stretch often.
If you’re working out nearly every day, stretching just once or twice a week simply isn’t enough. Even just 5 minutes of stretching a day post-workout or while you’re watching TV will make a huge difference.