How to Improve Hamstring Flexibility

How to improve your hamstring flexibility to stay healthy and move better.

When I think about the sit-and-reach test, I have flashbacks to the Presidential Fitness Test we used to do in elementary school.  I, much like many of my adolescent classmates, was not flexible.  Sitting and touching my knees was a challenge let alone my toes. I always felt like such a failure every year when I didn't get to the "norm" for hamstring flexibility.

Since then I have learned how to stretch effectively and can now regularly touch my toes.  I'm here to teach you how to improve your flexibility so you can keep your hips, knees and back healthy (and not feel like an outcast). 

A little background on myself.  I'm a licensed physical therapist and I work primarily with patients with orthopedic injuries.  Hamstring length can be a leading factor to many orthopedic injuries and pain.  I frequently have to work with patients on improving their flexibility to improve daily function and decrease pain. I wrote a post on how to improve flexibility on my website a while back.  I want to highlight some of that post for this community. 

There are many different ways to stretch.  Static, where you hold the stretch for a prolonged period of time.  Dynamic, where you do repetitions.  Ballistic, where you bounce (not recommended).  PNF stretching, where you utilize the nervous system to help improve flexibility.  PNF stretching has proved to be the most effective way to improve flexibility by many research studies.  This is the type of stretching that I will be focusing on for you all.

PNF stretching is the most effective for two reasons. One, it helps to turn off overly protective mechanisms in your muscle that will prevent you from improving muscle length.  It also utilizes opposing muscles to help improve muscle length. 

The technique is called hold-relax-contract. When it comes to your hamstrings you hold a slight (20 percent) hamstring contraction for five seconds.  This is followed by a quick relax phase which is then followed by a contraction of your quad/hip flexor.  When you are contracting your quad you want to try to increase your reach for your toes (pic 2) and hold for another 5 seconds. 

Perform this stretch by sitting on the ground with one leg out in front of you and the foot tucked to the inside of that knee (pic 1).  Do this 5 times and you will be on your way to improved hamstring flexibility in no time. 

A quick side note: if you are doing this stretch and you feel like something is shooting down to your foot or you feel like the back of your leg and foot are burning, STOP.  This is a sign that you have nerve irritation and possibly a back injury.  If this is the case consult with your MD and local physical therapist – hopefully me :). 

If you have any questions please contact me.  If there is any future topics you would like me to cover let me know.  I will do my best to get to them all.  Thank you for reading.


"Live Pain Free"

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mscottdpt October 03, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Ian, Great post! Good to see that you are making what seem like difficult concepts easily understandable to the exercising public. What would you say are the top two injuries you see as a result of tight hammies? Mike Scott
Leave RI October 03, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Nice job. This is the stuff I wish was here more often.
Ian Manning October 03, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Hi Mike, Thank you for the comment. #1 injury I see is low back pain associated with tight hamstrings. #2 would be hamstring issues, i.e. strain/pull/tear. Let me know if I can do anything else for you. Ian
Ian Manning October 03, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Thank you very much. I hope to be posting frequently. I hope you continue to read and enjoy. Ian


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