How You Can Open Up Your Hamstrings – Part 1

This is a common question from within our local yoga community and I was asked again last week so I offered to write a blog post about it.  Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Series, the sequence I teach, has many forward bends in it.  As such a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice will open the hamstrings up quite quickly.  People tend to have difficulties with this if they don’t have the space for a regular practice in their life, they are exceptionally tight and find forward bending challenging,  they have a history of back problems and or they are very active and need to stretch out their hamstrings after their activity.  Liverpool half marathon runners from yesterday’s race, take note 🙂

Hamstrings and Back Pain

If you are really tight in your hamstrings it may prevent your pelvis from tilting when you bend forward, which can put your back at risk.  As your body is very much interconnected a tight back will often lead to tight hamstrings and vice versa.  The causes of back pain are numerous and are beyond the scope of this blog post.  If you have a problem with your back I recommend you work with a professional to work out how to best recover.

 What Causes Tight Hamstings?

Many people have tight hamstrings. You are not alone. Causes include:

  • Back tightness
  • Compensation from weakness elsewhere such as the glutes
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Sitting

How to Stretch Out Your Hamstrings

Charlie stretching out his hamstrings in a yoga pose, lying on his back and using belt to stretch the leg back.

If you can’t grab your foot or leg easily you can use a belt as my student Charlie is demonstrating.   Aim to get your leg to go straight up gradually over time, that is a good range of motion, Charlie is nearly there through dedicated practice 🙂 Make sure the leg you are stretching is straight.  You should feel the stretch across the length of the muscle either in the back of the thigh or even the calf and not in the joint, back of the knee or in the buttocks.  If you feel a sharp pain there or anywhere, something is wrong.  Keep your leg completely straight and engage the front of your thigh, this will help to relax the hamstring through what as called reciprocal inhibition.  If you are still having difficulties let me know as there are other suggestions I can make.

 

Guidelines for Practicing this Pose

  • If it hurts back off and modify. If you are not able to do it pain free contact a professional and stop doing the position
  • Take deep even breaths through your nose and allow yourself to relax into the position
  • Do not push too hard, gently and consistently allow the hamstring to open
  • Practice this regularly, at least 3 times a week
  • If you are running or cycling etc do this afterwards
  • Hold for at least 30 seconds, around 10 deep breaths
  • You can do this stretch up to 3 times
  • If you have one leg tighter than the other, start with that leg and do an extra one on that side.

I would like to thank Charlie for allowing me to use his photo in this post.  More student pictures coming up.  I would also like to thank my students whose questions have led to me to learn so much and whose dedication inspires me to continue to do so.

In part two I am going to give an alternative hamstrings  stretch and talk about how you can use self massage to help release the hamstrings.  Do you have tight hamstrings?  Have your hamstrings opened up through practicing yoga?  Do you have any questions or is there anything else you would like me to write about on this topic?

About Helen Aldred

Helen Aldred practices and teaches ashtanga yoga in Liverpool. She loves to share and discuss yoga, as well as health and wellbeing. Follow her on twitter and join Ashtanga yoga Liverpool's Facebook community .

Comments

  1. Do I have tight hamstrings? Is the Pope Catholic? (topical). Yes! Do forward bends consequently drive me to absolute distraction? Yes! But thanks to regular (ish) stretches of the type Helen desribes in this blog, I have seen a tiny improvement. Others assure me it’s not so tiny. And it’s true: I’ve been working on this for over a year and can now get my legs up to a right angle with the floor when lying down. Which is a major achievement for me. So I am encouraged to persevere. Who knows where this might lead? Will I ever be able to do a forward bend like Helen? Extremely unlikely. But if I can get my nose within a foot of my knees with a straight back, I’ll be a very happy girl! Thanks Helen!

  2. Hey Pavlina,
    Thanks for taking the time to comment on the blog. I am sure others can relate and will be inspired by what you are saying :-). It is amazing the change that can take place with regular practice, there are many things that I thought were completely impossible which I now do every day with ease. I love the challenge of it and it enjoy the things I can’t do yet the most because they force me into the present and make me surrender to what is actually happening rather than how I want things to be. I hope you found the post useful, stay tuned for part two.

  3. I am working hard to open up my hamstrings. I maintain a daily, morning ashtanga primary series practice and also stretch a little at night before I go to bed. How many times a day can I stretch my hamstrings without overdoing it?
    http://ordinaryashtangayogini.blogspot.com/

  4. Hi Ordinary Yogini,

    Sounds like you are doing enough to me. You can actually stretch many times throughout the day but unless you have an injury I think there is no need. When you stretch, you can do each stretch up to 3 times and hold for 10 breaths, if you are working on something outside of practice. Just listen to your body and be consistent and change will happen.

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