Hamstring Stretching


hamstring muscles

Runners and tight hamstrings are like macaroni and cheese – there is a certain value to the tightness but it can certainly be improved. Your hamstrings serve two purposes when you run. First, they help control your trunk (upper body) from flailing forward when your heel hits the ground and second, they control how far forward your foot is placed as your leg swings forward. Tightness of these muscles actually saves you energy as you run but it may also lead to injury if the tightness is excessive.

Over the years we have fixed a variety of macaroni dinners for our kids. Some dinners had spiral noodles while others had Velveta cheese; a few even had meat and vegetables (of course the kids protested and now they get to cook it). The following is a menu of Hamstring stretches that you can experiment with to see what suits your palate.

Passive Static


Passive static stretch is a powerful way to get right down to elongating the hamstring muscles. This position protects your back (eliminating possible compensations) while your hamstrings stretch and you do your best to relax and let it stretch.

passive static hamstring stretch

With either one or both legs up against a wall, scoot your butt towards the wall until you feel a strong stretch. Hold the stretch for thirty seconds then bend your hips and knees for a break. Repeat the sequence five times. For a little more vigorous stretch place your heels a little higher on the wall and let your butt sag back down to the floor.

Active Static


Yoga enthusiasts will find this technique familiar. Active static stretching requires the stretched muscle to work while holding the stretch position or pose. Flexibility is balanced with muscular control – a challenging combination.

Keep your back straight while bending forward at your hips. Hold the position at which you feel a distinct stretch in the hamstring muscle for fifteen seconds and repeat five times. As your flexibility and control improve you will be able to straighten the stance leg more and pivot further forward with your trunk.

Contract / Relax


Contract / Relax blocks your nervous system from resisting a stretch - allowing you to more fully stretch your hamstrings and perhaps even reset your nervous system to a new level of flexibility. Contract / Relax is a great approach for those of you that have worked at stretching your hamstrings but they still feel tight. Unfortunately, it is best performed with a partner and requires some careful adjustment on their part. You may want a physical therapist or athletic trainer to help you get started with this one.

Rest your heel on your partner’s shoulder at an angle that you feel a slight stretch in the hamstrings. Very gently press your heel into your partners shoulder for five seconds then completely relax. After you have completely relaxed, have your partner gently increase the angle of stretch (2-5 degrees). Repeat this sequence five times.



Dynamic stretching is particularly useful as part of a warm up routine. Active movements that are similar to running are used to stretch the target muscle. Dynamic stretching enhances flexibility and coordination.


Lift your knee towards your chest and briefly hold your thigh in a horizontal position. Straighten your knee while keeping your back straight to get a good stretch in your hamstrings. Now let your leg swing through until the right knee is behind the left. Keep your back straight and hold this position briefly while you curl your heel towards your butt and feel the hamstrings contract. Continue the cycle five times for each leg.


Bryan Whitesides MPT, OCS

Physical Therapist


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