One note before we get started: The stretches described in the article are static stretches, so I wouldn't recommend doing them prior to running. If you do choose to stretch before running, go with something dynamic, like leg swings, since static stretching before running is believed to decrease performance. However, static stretching after running is very good for muscle elongation, which can be useful for preventing imbalances if you are tight in certain areas. Additionally, since your muscles are warm from running, stretching after running makes you less likely to tear something while stretching. Never stretch to the point of pain...you want to feel a gentle stretch, something that you could hold all day if you absolutely had to.
How to Stretch Your Hamstrings:By Michelle Zehr
Zehr is a contributing writer with Running Shoes Guru, your place for running shoe reviews.
Your hamstrings are the muscles located in the back portion of your thighs. Hamstrings are essential to leading an active lifestyle. Hamstrings are essential in virtually all activities involving your legs including sitting, walking, standing, jogging and in sports that require plenty of running and jumping. For this reason, it is important to stretch your hamstrings.
Importance of Hamstring Stretching
While exercising, it is very important to pay proper attention to your hamstrings in order to make them more flexible. If you are an athlete or an avid exerciser, it is important that your hamstrings are both strong and flexible. Strong, flexible hamstrings can help improve your athletic performance and prevent hamstring injuries.Many individuals report feelings of tightness in their hamstrings. For instance, if you walk an extended distance or remain seated for an extended period of time, you may notice your hamstrings are feeling tighter. This can create pain in the backs of your thighs. Pain can last for a few days and make everyday movements uncomfortable. Pain can last even longer if you do not properly warm-up your hamstrings. By properly warming-up and lightly stretching your hamstrings, your hamstrings can become strong, flexible and less prone to injury. Strong hamstrings are essential for supporting your back and hips along with allowing for proper movements of the knee and hip joints. Healthy hamstrings are also important for proper posture.
Fact: Hamstring injuries are extremely common amongst athletes. They can be extremely painful depending on the extent of the injury. Hamstring injuries can range from mild strains to severe tears. Symptoms of a hamstring injury can include sudden and severe pain in the back of the thigh, which is often accompanied by a popping sound. Rest and stretching are often used to treat mild injuries. For severe tears, surgery may be required.
Hamstring Stretches to Try
According to researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute in Chicago, the following stretches have been found to be most effective in lengthening the hamstring muscles and maximizing flexibility. Researchers recommend these stretches be completed in three sets of one repetition at least three times per week. (Note from Becki: In order to get muscle elongation, it is generally accepted that you need to stretch for a total of ~3 minutes, so rather than going with 3x30 seconds, go with either 6x30 seconds or 3x60 seconds)
- Passive hamstring stretch To complete this stretch, lie on your back in a doorway and place your left heel against the wall. Bend your hip so that it forms a 90-degree angle with your leg. Your knee should be as straight as possible. Your right leg should be positioned on the floor and through the doorway. Slowly, move closer to the wall and you should begin to feel a stretch in your hamstring. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat with the opposite leg.
- Assisted Stretch
- This stretch begins similarly to the passive hamstring stretch. You should position yourself in a doorway with your left heel against the wall and your hip bend to form a 90-degree angle with your leg. Your right leg should be on the ground and through the doorway. To perform the passive stretch, you should loop a towel, belt, strap or resistance band around the ball of your left foot. Gently pull down on the towel (or other item) until you feel your hamstrings beginning to stretch. Once you feel a stretch, slowly point your toes upward. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat with your right leg.
- Kneeling stretch
- To complete a kneeling stretch, get on your knees and extend one of your legs out in front of you. The heel of this leg should be on the floor with your back straight and your toes pointing toward the ceiling. Your knee should be as straight as possible. However, it is okay if your knee is slightly bent. Reach toward your toes using one of your hands. The other hand should be placed on the floor for balance. Reach until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat with the opposite leg.
- Standing stretch
- You can also stretch your hamstrings out while standing. Place one foot on a chair, bench, couch or other object of similar height. Your leg should be bent slightly at the knee with your toes on the edge of the chair and your heel hanging slightly over the edge. Gently move your chest toward your leg. When you feel a stretch in your hamstring, hold this position for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat with the opposite leg.
- Desk stretch
- This stretch is the ideal way to stretch your hamstrings should you spend a lot of time at the office. Sit straight up in your chair and place both of your hands underneath one of your thighs. Gently pull your knee toward your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat with the opposite leg.
Stretching is a very important part of any exercise program. While you should stretch all muscle groups, stretching your hamstrings is extremely important. After all, your hamstrings play a key role in all movements from sitting to walking. Stretching can help to promote healthy blood flow along with fluid exchange, which keeps your muscles nourished and free of waste products. This can lead to optimal hamstring function and lower risk of hamstring injuries.
Another important aspect of running is to have the best running shoes.