Hamstring Stretches

Written By: Chloe Wilson, BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed by: KPE Medical Review Board

Find out the best ways to do hamstring stretches

Hamstring stretches are an important part of any workout or rehab programme. Hamstring stretching exercises can help to reduce pain, increase flexibility and improve function.

The reason for this is because having tight hamstrings puts you at risk of knee pain and injury, so having good flexibility is important.

Most people have some tightness in their hamstrings, especially people who spend a lot of their day sitting.

I'm sure if you asked them to, most people would have a go at doing hamstrings stretches for flexibility, but lots of them wouldn't do them correctly. They might start in the wrong position making it ineffective or stretch in a way that puts lots of tension on the sciatic nerve which runs down the back of the leg, rather than stretching their hamstrings.

Here we will look at how to tell if you hamstrings are tight, and then look at six great stretches which can help relieve knee pain and prevent injuries. There are other ways to do hamstring stretching exercises, but these are the ones I find people get most benefit from and are simplest to perform accurately.

Are My Hamstrings Tight?

Can you touch your toes?

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run down the back of the thigh from the pelvis to the knee.  Here are a couple of simple tests you can try at home to see if you have tight hamstrings:

1. Simple: Can you touch your toes whilst keeping your knees straight? If you can't, you probably have tight hamstrings

2. Pro's Test: Lie on your back and lift your leg up so your hip and knee are bent to 90°. Then try and straighten your knee without moving your hip. The angle at your knee will tell you if you have tight hamstrings - women should be able to get their knee within 20° of fully straight, and men within 30°. If you can’t, it's time to stretch.

How Do I Do Hamstring Stretches?

If you do have tight hamstrings, have a go at these simple stretches. You only need to do one of these hamstring stretches for knee pain - pick whichever you prefer. To get the maximum benefit for the least effort, hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times - you can find out more in the knee stretches section.

TOP TIP: With each of these hamstring stretches for flexibility, you should feel the stretch in the middle of the back of your thigh, rather than at the knee. To ensure this, you want to have your leg slightly bent. That takes the tension off the sciatic nerve and directs it towards the hamstring muscles. 

Related Article: Hamstring Strengthening Exercises >

1. Towel Hamstring Stretch

Starting position: Lie flat on your back. Bend the knee on the leg to be stretched and hold the back of your thigh with one hand and the back of your calf with the other

Action: Use your hands to pull the leg towards you keeping the knee bent about 20° until you feel a strong stretch in the middle of your thigh (at the back). Hold for 30 secs

Repetition: Repeat 3 times, 2x daily, or before and after exercise

Tips: If you can’t reach your leg to pull it, hook a towel around your foot and pull that instead to achieve a good hamstring stretch - as shown in the picture

2. Wall Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring Stretches: Using the wall is a great way to really target the hamstrings when stretching

Starting position: Lie on your back in or by a doorway

Action: Slide the leg to be stretched up the wall until it is just shy of fully straight - you may need to adjust your body position in the doorway to achieve this. Hold for 30 secs

Repetition: Repeat 3 times, 2x daily, or before and after exercise

Note: Make sure the rest of your body is comfortable and relaxed

3. Chair Hamstring Stretch

Starting position: Sit on the edge of a chair with your good leg bent. Put the leg to be stretched out in front of you with the knee very slightly bent

Action: Lean forwards (keeping your back straight and your head up) until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 30 secs

Repetition: Repeat 3 times, 2x daily, or before and after exercise

Note: Remember, when you do hamstring stretches for knee pain, you should feel it in the middle of the thigh rather than behind the knee – bending the leg slightly helps to achieve this

4. Seated Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring Stretches are most effective when the knee is slightly bent so that the stretch targets the muscle belly rather than the tendon

Starting position: Sit with the leg to be stretched out straight and the other knee bent so you are comfortable

Action: Keeping a slight bend in the knee, reach forwards towards your toes until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds

Repetition: Repeat 3 times, 2x daily, or before and after exercise

Note: Keep your back in a neutral position

5. Foam Roller Hamstring Stretch

Starting position: Sit with a foam roller underneath your target thigh and the other leg bent up, foot in front of the roller. Lean back on your arms keeping a neutral spine.

Action: Using your arms, roll forwards and backwards so the roller runs from the hip to the thigh.

Repetition: Spend 2-3 minutes doing this, 2x daily, or before and after exercise

Note: The harder you push down through the roller, the greater the stretch

6. Standing Hamstrings Stretch

Classic hamstring stretch.  Approved use by www.hep2go.com

Starting position: Find a stool or object that is about 50cms / 1½ foot high. Leave one foot on the floor and rest the other foot on the stool with the knee slightly bent (about 15°)

Action: Lean forwards and down, keeping your back straight, until you feel a stretch in the middle of the hamstrings. Hold for 30 secs

Repetition: Repeat 3 times, 2x daily, or before and after exercise

Tips: If you do not feel much of a stretch in your hamstrings, lean slightly to the side of the leg being stretched as well as forwards and you should feel more of a stretch.  You can also try pushing your bottom backwards to increase the stretch

What Else Can Help?

To get the best results from these hamstring stretches, see the stretches guide for top tips on getting the maximum benefit from the minimum effort. 

If you want to find out how to stretch your other leg muscles check out the following articles:

Remember, the best way to tell if your muscles are tight is to see a physical therapist who can fully assess you.

Having good flexibility is just one part of keeping our knees healthy. We also need good strength in the muscles - have a look at the knee strengthening exercises section to find out more.

SAFETY ADVICE: If you have suffered an injury such as a hamstring tear, you should not start doing hamstring stretching exercises too early or you may cause further damage. Always consult your doctor first before starting hamstring stretches.

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Page Last Updated: 2020-10-02
Next Review Due: 2022-10-02