7 Great Hamstring Stretches

Hamstring stretches relieve pain, prevent injury, and more

Hamstring stretches help to relieve back pain, improve posture, and avoid soreness and injuries.

The hamstrings are a group of muscles that attach to the pelvis and the leg bones. They help you bend your knees and tilt your pelvis.

Too tight hamstrings can cause pain in your lower back, knees, and legs. Stretching your hamstrings the right way can prevent and ease pain and help maintain flexibility and mobility as you age.

This article looks at the importance of hamstring stretches. It includes seven hamstring stretches and guidance for how to stretch effectively.

Young active woman stretching her hamstrings in a park
Take a Pix Media / Getty Images

Why Stretch Your Hamstrings?

The hamstrings play an important role in posture and lower back pain. The hamstrings control movements in your legs and pelvis.

Your spine is anchored between two hip bones that comprise the pelvis. The pelvis and the lumbar spine move together. When the hamstring muscles contract, it can cause a posterior pelvic tilt. This is a tipping of the tailbone down towards the back of the thigh. 

The hip muscles and hamstrings alter, and sometimes correct, the position of the pelvis. Tight hamstrings contribute to lower back pain. Chronically contracted hamstrings pull on the pelvis and flatten the normal arch of your lower back. This can overstretch and weaken muscles, causing lower back pain.

Properly stretching your hamstrings helps to ease and prevent back pain. There are several different ways to stretch your hamstrings.

When you stretch, you should not feel pain in your lower back, hips, or legs. If you do, try a different stretch and be careful not to stretch too far. People with chronic lower back pain or disc disease should start with the beginner supine hamstring stretch.

Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds at a comfortable level. Repeat on the other leg. Stretch each leg three or more times.

1

Toe Touching

Jogger Touching Her Toes
Steve Prezant / Getty Images

One way to stretch your hamstrings is by touching your toes. While standing, bend forward at the hips and try to touch your toes with your fingers.

Here are a few tips to make this safer and more effective.

  1. Don't bounce. Bouncing activates a mechanism called the stretch reflex. This can result in more muscle contraction, not less.
  2. Lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. This elongates the hamstring muscles.
  3. Make sure your hips are directly over your feet. Your buttocks should not be behind your feet. This mistake makes the stretch less effective.
  4. If your core muscles are weak, consider using a table or other surface to help you come back up to standing.

A rule of thumb for your safety: Only go as far as you can without back pain or a feeling of insecurity.

2

Supine Hamstring Stretch

Reclined Big Toe Yoga Pose

Siri Stafford / Getty Images

Lie on your back and bring one leg straight up. This move is common in yoga, at the gym, and in fitness studios. It stretches the hamstring muscles and takes them out of contraction.

The ultimate goal is to bring your leg up high enough that you can touch your toes. With repetition, you may even be able to bring your straight leg towards your head. But you don't have to go that far to get a good stretch.

3

Beginners Supine Hamstring Stretch

Silhouette of woman stretching hamstrings by grasping ankle of straight leg while lying on her back.

summerseason / Shutterstock

Not everyone can touch their toes while doing the supine hamstring stretch. That's okay. Try one of these variations while you still have some of that initial stiffness.

Place a strap or belt around the bottom of your foot. If you can't reach your toes, you can use the strap to pull your leg towards your head.

You can also grab the part of your leg above your foot instead of your toes. Just grasp whatever part you can comfortably reach, as pictured above. Bend the opposite leg to help stabilize and align your trunk as you stretch.

4

Standing Hamstring Stretch

Woman doing standing hamstring stretch
SolStock / Getty Images

There are a few reasons why you might not feel comfortable lying down and getting back up from the floor. You may be pregnant, for example, or you may have an injury or pain.

If this is you, try a one-legged hamstring stretch. This can be done from a standing position.

Extend one leg out. Keep your back straight. Bend from your hip joints to bring your chest toward your thigh. The opposite leg will bend at the knee.

Go only as far as you can without pain, strain, or shakiness. If you need extra support, hold onto a piece of furniture or the wall.

5

Easy Hamstring Stretch for Athletes

Woman runner stretching leg on bench in autumn park overlooking lake
Hero Images / Getty Images

If you are active, try this easy stretch. Place the heel or ankle of one leg on something about waist high or a little lower. Bend at your hips to bring the front of your trunk towards your thigh.

For best results, keep your back straight. A straight back will also provide some protection for your spine.

6

Advanced Hamstring Stretch for Athletes

A female athlete does an advanced hamstring stretch while squatting.
Ammentorp

If the previous hamstring stretch for athletes isn't challenging enough, try doing it while in a one-legged squat.

7

Partner Hamstring Stretching

One woman helps another to further her hamstring stretch.

fizkes / Shutterstock

You can get a little more out of your hamstring stretch with the help of a friend or bodyworker. While in the supine position, have this person help you bring your leg towards your head.

Make sure you give your helper plenty of verbal feedback so you won't over-stretch. The ideal intensity is somewhere between comfortable and challenging.

Summary

If your hamstrings are too tight, you may experience low back pain. Stretching your hamstrings can help ease and prevent this kind of pain.

Try touching your toes from a standing position. You can also lie on your back and bring your leg towards your head. If you can't reach your toes, you can use a strap or grab on to part of your leg.

You can also try a one-legged hamstring stretch from a standing position. If you're active, try placing your heel on something about waist high. For a more advanced stretch, do this while in a one-legged squat.

You can also enlist someone to help you with your supine stretch. Just make sure to give your helper plenty of verbal feedback. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What muscle group are hamstring stretches for?

    Hamstring stretches improve flexibility in the three muscles on the back of the thigh. These are called the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris. Located between the hip and the knee, these muscles are responsible for:

    • Flexing the knee
    • Rotating the lower leg when the knee is bent
    • Extending the hip when the trunk is fixed
  • What do hamstring stretches do?

    Without stretching, the hamstrings are constantly contracting. This helps take up the slack that happens when the core muscles cannot stabilize the hips. This can lead to tightness and an increased risk of a pulled hamstring. Stretching your hamstrings can help you:

    • Avoid hamstring injury
    • Increase joint flexibility
    • Improve posture and stability
    • Optimize performance
  • Can hamstring stretches relieve lower back pain?

    If your hamstrings are tight, you may tend to use your lower back rather than your hips to initiate movements. When you regularly stretch your hamstrings, your hips are better able to stabilize your core. This helps them take over the responsibility of bending and straightening the upper body.

  • Can hamstring stretches relieve knee pain?

    If your hamstrings are tight, the quadriceps muscles in front of the thighs take over. This places excessive stress on the tendon that connects the quadriceps to the knee. Stretching the hamstrings helps prevent injury before sports and may also ease knee pain. This is because it transfers the responsibility of knee bending to the hamstrings.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Reis FJJ, Macedo AR. Influence of hamstring tightness in pelvic, lumbar and trunk range of motion in low back pain and asymptomatic volunteers during forward bendingAsian Spine J. 2015;9(4):535-540. doi. 10.4184/asj.2015.9.4.535

  2. Iwata M, Yamamoto A, Matsuo S, et al. Dynamic stretching has sustained effects on range of motion and passive stiffness of the hamstring muscles. J Sports Sci Med. 2019;18(1):13-20.

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.