How to unlock your hamstrings. Part 1.

hamstring stretches hamstrings Jun 10, 2024
Stretches for hamstrings

If you have tight hamstrings, then other areas of your body, like your low back, will be forced to compensate.

Take bending down to pick something up for example. Relying on your spine to bend is not necessarily a bad thing. There is nothing inherently wrong or dangerous about rounding your back.

Healthy movement is all about having options. The more options your body has, the more balanced, natural and effortless movement will feel for you.

If your hamstrings can’t lengthen enough to perform certain basic movements, your movement options will be limited. The nervous system will take what it has access to. Over and over.

This will put unnecessary stress and load on other parts of the body, which can lead to pain, discomfort, fatigue, and a feeling that your movement is stiff or forced.

Your back might be where you feel it, but it can also be your hips or any other joint or muscle involved in movements you perform often.

Bending is just one example. The hamstrings are one of the biggest muscle groups in the body that attach to the largest bone in the body, the femur.

Limited range and poor function in the hamstrings will affect how so many other basic movements feel.

Things like squatting, lunging, walking, running and even sitting will feel off.

If you spend a little time properly stretching your hamstrings a few times a week, you’ll be amazed with how much easier movement can feel for you.

In this article, I’ll share a few simple stretches to help get you started.

How to Stretch the Hamstrings

Before getting into the stretches, it’s important to address best practices when it comes to stretching the hamstrings.

First, when stretching any muscle, it’s important to remember that the muscle will not want to relax. There is a reason why this muscle is tight and limited.

The hamstrings are no exception. They might even be more resistant to relaxation because of their size.

The nervous system gets accustomed to tight muscles. When you’re stretching, you’re not only trying to make changes in the target muscle, but also the brain.

Stretching when you’re in a rush, stressed or distracted is a recipe for disaster. You won’t get the results you want or worse, you’ll hurt yourself.

To relax the muscle being stretched, you also need to relax the brain. This works in reverse too. If you can be patient and relax into the stretch, your mind and mental chatter will quiet down too.

This is the beauty of the mind-body connection!

The second point to remember is that other areas of the body will try to “hijack” the load. Because your nervous system does not want to feel the discomfort of a stretch, it may offload the tension to another area of the body.

You want to pay attention to this and intentionally shift the tension to where you want it to go – the hamstrings. This is also a great way to learn more about your body.

When you are stretching your hamstrings, why do you feel tension in your knee? Or your back? Or the front of your hip?

Supine Hamstring Stretch

It’s always wise to start your progression with a supine (lying down) version of a stretch. This will usually be the easiest version because other parts of your body don’t have to do much and can just relax. 

The target muscle group is the hamstrings. The more we can feel a stretch in the hamstrings, the better. We want to remove as much unnecessary tension in other parts of the body as possible.

This is especially important when you start stretching a new muscle group.. You want to clearly identify what a stretch in that muscle feels like. You can then bring this feeling into more challenging progressions of the stretch.

Seated hamstring stretch

Moving to a seated position, the lower body can still relax quite a bit. But now we ask the torso to remain upright and remain in a good position while we stretch the hamstrings.

This is an important addition because the most common compensation for tight hamstrings is rounding of the back.

This is why the goal in this stretch is not depth but how straight we can keep our spine. It’s easy to go deeper by rounding your back.

Instead, we want to find the depth where we can keep our back straight but still feel a stretch in the hamstrings. This will be the ideal depth to explore until the stretch quiets down. At which point, you go deeper while maintaining a neutral spine.

Standing hamstring stretch

The standing version is the most challenging progression out of all the ones in this tutorial. This is only because more can go wrong if you don’t pay attention and try to take too much range too soon.

You want to bring the lessons you learned from the prior two stretches into this one and be even more diligent about them.

Do you feel the stretch in the hamstrings or is some other area of the body hijacking the tension? Is your back rounding too much?

A good cue I learned about spinal position is to look at a mirror from your side to check the curvatures of your spine when standing. Do your best to maintain this curvature when you go into this stretch.


Passively stretching your hamstrings like this provides some definite benefits. It helps build body awareness and can help relax the nervous system.

It also helps increase flexibility, but static stretching alone is unlikely to provide major mobility gains for most adults. If you’re looking to just feel less stiff and more comfortable in your body then the above stretches might be all you need.

But if you are an athlete or have specific flexibility goals (e.g., palms to floor) then you need to work on strength and loaded stretching as well.

I am treating this article as part 1 of a series for improving hamstring function.

I plan on posting part 2 of this series soon where I will provide guidance on how to incorporate strength to increase flexibility in the hamstrings.

To find out when that comes out, be sure to sign up for my mailing list here.