3 Best Hamstring Stretches

By: Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

The 3 Best Hamstring Stretches are easy to do and they should not hurt. You don't need any fancy equipment. But, read to the end to find out which is the best for you.

3 Best Hamstring Stretches You Can Do Anywhere

Supine Hamstring Stretch

  1. Lie on your back with 1 leg straight and pull the other thigh up with the hands.  
  2. The thigh should be in a position to give a 90 degree angle at the hip. 
  3. Gently straighten the knee while keeping the hip held at a 90 degree angle.
  4. When you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh, hold in place.
  5. Hold 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.

man lying on a mat table with the right leg held toward ceiling and hands behind the right tigh to do a supine hamstring stretchSupine Hamstring Stretch

Seated Hamstring Stretch 

  1. Sit on the edge of a table or bed with one leg straight on the surface and the other foot on the floor.
  2. Keep the back straight.
  3. Lean forward at the hip with the back straight.
  4. When you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh, hold in place.
  5. Hold 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.

man sitting on the side of a mat table with the left leg on the table straight and the right foot on the floor. Leaning at the hips to stretch the left hamstringsSeated Hamstring Stretch

Standing Hamstring Stretch

  1. Stand on 1 leg and place the other foot on a stable surface or object 1 to 3 feet off the floor.
  2. Keep to elevated leg straight.
  3. With the back straight, lean forward toward the elevated foot by bending at the hip.
  4. When you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh, hold in place.
  5. Hold 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. 

Man standing with right foot on a chair doing a standing hamstring stretchStanding Hamstring Stretch

When To Do Hamstring Stretches

Stretching for the purpose of lengthening muscle tissue should be performed at the end of an exercises session. This is a great way to help your muscles relax after a tough work out.

An active or dynamic warm up is typically best before your workout. This may involve:

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Carioka
  • Hip Turn Outs
  • High knees

The thought process behind stretching has changed over the past couple of decades. Stretching used to be recommended before exercise. But stretching IS an exercise and it is important to warm up a muscle before stretching. Warm muscles stretch better than cold muscles.

When To Avoid Hamstring Stretches

Avoid Stretching the Hamstrings if:

  • Severe pain in the back of the thigh
  • Discoloration or bruising in the thigh
  • Recent Injury
  • Shooting or radiating pain in the thigh
  • Feeling a pop in the Hamstrings
  • Recent Surgery
  • Unable to move the thigh or leg  after injury

How Do You Know If Hamstrings Are Tight?

Hamstring tightness is common but preventable. The best way to tell if you have tight hamstrings is with a 90/90 test.  

Lie on the back with the leg in the same positions as the Supine Hamstring Stretch described earlier. If you can easily extend the knee within about 20 degrees of being straight, your hamstrings are not tight. If you cannot extend within 20 degrees of a straight leg, this is considered a tight hamstring. 

illustration and labels to show knee angle greater than 20 degrees which demonstrates tight hamstringsTight Hamstrings

illustration and labels to show knee angle less than 20 degrees which demonstrates normal hamstring flexibilityNormal Hamstring Flexibility

What are the Hamstrings?

The hamstring are a group of muscles in the back of the thigh.  They attach to the Ischium or the "butt bone". They run down the thigh and attach below the knee. The Hamstrings help to bend the knee and extend the hip with walking and daily activity. The 3 muscles that make up the hamstrings are labelled in the illustration below. 

Anatomical image of the hamstring muscles and the bone where they attachHamstring Anatomy

Click to Learn about Muscle Strain or Hamstring Strain.

Do Hamstrings Cause Tightness Behind The Knee?

As you can see in the diagram above, the hamstring muscles separate and do not run directly behind the knee. If there is tightness behind the knee, it may be from swelling inside the knee joint capsule. This can happen with knee arthritis or any other injury inside the knee. 

Which Of The 3 Best Hamstring Stretches Should I Do?

All 3 of the Best Hamstring stretches are effective if done correctly.  But, if you have a history of lower back pain, the supine Hamstring stretch may be the best for you.

When lying on the back, the force of gravity is not transferred through the spinal discs and joints. This allows for isolated stretching in the hamstrings with less stress on the lower back. If you have radiating pain or Sciatica, stretching may increase the pain. So talk to a doctor or physical therapist before stretching with Sciatica.

Related Articles: Flexibility and Direct Access to Physical Therapy.

If you have Hamstring pain or knee pain, the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute can help.  To schedule an appointment with a JOI Orthopedic Doctor, call (904)JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below. To see a JOI Rehab Therapist in 1 of our 12 locations, call (904)858-7045.

See a Knee Specialist

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To learn about stretching the lower back, read this article on Lower Back Stretches.

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