If ascending the stairs, climbing a crag, kicking a ball or bending forward causes a pulling sensation in the back of your upper leg, you might have tight hamstrings.
Your hamstrings are three muscles that are located in the back of your thighs, and run from your hip to just below your knee, says Grayson Wickham, DPT, CSCS, physical therapist and founder of digital movement platform Movement Vault.
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Their primary function is to help you extend your leg and bend your knee, but when they're tight, you're not able to perform these movement patterns as comfortably. Tight hamstrings can be quite painful and irritating, according to Wickham.
Luckily, you can ease some of this hamstring tightness almost immediately by stretching. Ahead, Wickham shares how long it takes to stretch tight hamstring — plus four dynamic stretches for easing tightness ASAP.
How Long Does It Take to Stretch Tight Hamstrings?
It's quicker than you might think: "Just 10 minutes of dynamic hamstring stretches can help you relieve the hamstring tightness you're currently experiencing and increase range of motion by nearly 20 percent," Wickham says. That said, to make lasting changes, he says you need to commit to doing 10 minutes of active stretches three days per week.
After just one month of three stretch sessions per week — a total of 12 sessions — Wickham says you'll begin to notice lasting improvements. At that point, however, it's important to stick with your routine.
"Just as you wouldn't stop brushing your teeth just because they are clean today, you shouldn't stop working on your hamstring mobility just because they don't feel tight today," he explains.
How to Tell if Your Hamstrings Are Tight
When your hamstrings are tight, you’ll usually be able to feel the tendon “pulling,” “tugging,” or “clenching” along your backside and knees when you step, hinge forward or kick.
You can test if your hamstrings are tight by tuning into how your hamstrings feel when you bend down to tie your shoes, walk upstairs or kick a ball, Wickham says. For most people, the tightness will be immediately apparent in an inability to do those movements.
You can also test the mobility of your hamstring by doing a toe touch test. “If you have sound mobility, you’ll be able to touch your toes with straight knees,” Wickham says. If you can’t, your hamstring mobility is likely holding you back.
Another test you can do is lie on your back. Then, keeping one leg on the floor, raise the other as high as you can. “Someone with good mobility will be able to bring their leg up 90 degrees with a straight knee,” he says. People who can’t have imperfect mobility.
4 Stretches to Relieve Tight Hamstrings
Committed to stretching your hamstrings? Here are four hamstring exercises you can incorporate into your routine three days per week to create lasting improvements in your hamstring mobility.
1. Passive Banded Lying Hamstring Stretch
This stretch may be less effective than an active hamstring stretch, but Wickham says it's a good option for people looking for a very gentle stretch. For instance, in the morning or at the end of your workday after eight hours of sitting.
- Sit on an exercise mat and place a long resistance band around the arch of your left foot. Hold the ends of the band with both of your hands.
- Keeping your left leg straight, lie on your back and use your core to pull your leg closer to your torso while your right leg lies flat on the ground. Brace your core to keep your back on the ground. You should feel a stretch in your left hamstring.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and then lower your left leg back down to the ground and switch legs.
- Repeat three to four times per leg.
2. Active Banded Lying Hamstring Stretch
This is the active variation of the previous stretch. You'll start similarly, placing a resistance band around the middle of your left foot before lying back.
- Brace your core to keep your back on the ground. Keep your right leg on the floor, pressing the heel of that foot into the ground.
- Next, use your core and hamstring strength to pull your left leg up as high as possible, your hands holding the resistance band taut as you do.
- Keeping the band tight, squeeze your hamstring as you press your left foot into the resistance band in the air. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then relax the tension. Repeat for 5 reps on the same leg.
- Rest for 30 seconds before switching legs. Repeat for 3 sets for each leg.
3. Active Lunge
This dynamic hamstring stretch begins in a half-kneeling position and involves straightening your front leg as much as you can with each rep.
- Start in a kneeling lunge with your right knee on the ground and your left foot planted on the ground between your hands.
- Keeping your fingertips on the ground, fold your torso over your front leg and straighten your left leg as much as you can.
- Hold this position for 2 to 5 seconds before returning to the starting position.
- Repeat for 10 total reps per side, straightening your front leg a little more with each rep.
4. Runner's Lunge Isometric Hold
Adding an isometric hold helps deepen the stretch; the key is to contract your hamstring as hard as you can.
- Start in a runner's lunge with your left leg in front and your foot planted outside your left hand on the ground. Your right knee is on the ground behind you.
- Slowly extend your left leg, straightening it as much as you can, while your hands remain on the ground.
- Hinge forward toward your extended leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your leg.
- Next, flex your hamstring as hard as you can for 10 to 20 seconds. Think about pressing your hamstring down toward the ground to activate the muscle. You want to contract as hard as you can.
- Release the hold by returning to the starting position.
- Repeat for 5 reps per side, resting as long as you need to between each rep.
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