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What's the Best Way to Stretch Your Hamstrings?

January, 2019

I get this question quite often. The answer is two-fold:

  1. Maintain a healthy baseline length in your hamstrings/glutes by learning to tip your pelvis forward in stacksitting, tallstanding, and glidewalking. When you tuck your pelvis, you bring your ischial tuberosities (sitz bones) in closer to where these muscles attach on the leg. This allows the hamstrings/glutes to adapt to a short resting length. Short hamstrings make you more vulnerable to hamstring injuries when you perform motions that require normal or elongated hamstrings. Tears can happen within the muscle, or, more commonly, where the hamstrings attach to the ischial tuberosities.

 


Keeping your pelvis tipped forward while sitting helps maintain a healthy glute baseline length. A tipped pelvis while standing maintains a healthy hamstring length.

 

  1. Hip-hinge to bend, whether you are loading the dishwasher, feeding your pets, or setting the table. In this way, you give your hamstrings a big stretch on and off throughout the day. This is a much more effective way of restoring hamstring flexibility than is compartmentalizing your stretches to an exercise period.

 


When you use hip-hinging for everyday activities like picking things up and cleaning, you’re turning these activities into a hamstring stretch.

 

Hamstring injuries heal slowly. Nature was not expecting that we would strain our hamstrings frequently. Hip-hinging would have been a routine activity for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, so hamstrings would have been well-stretched and not prone to tearing. So Nature did not provision the area with a rich blood supply. If a hamstring tears, the lack of circulation in the area makes healing a long process.

By hip-hinging to stretch the hamstrings periodically throughout the day and anteverting (tipping) the pelvis to maintain a healthy hamstring baseline length, you are joining the ranks of your ancestors. You will be able to work, play, and live without being strung up from unnecessary and painful injuries that are a pain in the butt.  

 

If you'd like to learn hip-hinging in our Foundations Course, reach out to a teacher near you. Once you’ve begun anteverting your pelvis and hip-hinging, we’d love to hear: have you noticed any differences in your hamstring flexibility?

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Comments

Hi Esther!

what about those of us with severely anterior tilted pelvis? I’m confused about how to walk, stand and sit your way when I do so much to correct the sway back. Thank you!

I'm going to refer you to my blog Forward Pelvis: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It's very confusing to wade through the misperceptions around the pelvis, and the pelvis is something you want to get straight (or, rather, anteverted!) It's the foundation on which the rest of your spine is settled. You might want to attend one of our Free Workshops, preferably in person (if you have a teacher in your area) or online. We can show you the difference between anteverting the pevlis and swaying your back. Also, how to fix your sway.

Hi Esther, 

Thanks for this post.  I hadn't realized sitting could also stretch the hamstrings!  

I have a question though - is it ever okay to cross your legs when you sit (assuming I am sitting inthe prescribed Gohkale way)?

It's actually gluteus maximus that gets stretched in sitting with an anteverted pelvis (I've edited the post accordingly). I tend to group gluteus maximus with the hamstrings in my thinking - they're the muscles that, when short, induce poeple to round their backs in bending.

Crossing the legs is fine if you have the flexibility to not have that mess up (tuck / twist) the pelvic position. More about this on our forum here.

I have been practicing the hip-hingeing in my daily activities - weeding, dishwasher etc.  But I have always had little flexibility through the hamstrings and my hip hingeing requires me to bend my knees to accomodate.  I assumed the proper bending was more important than the straightness of my legs, but perhaps that is not the case?  Should I attempt to keep my legs straight?  My bending of the legs has not seemed to help with any advancement in flexibility, but perhaps that takes more time.

Hi,

Yes, you are correct. Keeping the integrity of the spineshape when bending is crucial. Straigthen your legs as much as your hamstrings allow - until you feel a nice satisfying hamstring stretch and only then bend the knees if you need to go lower. Personally, when I get to that nice sweet spot, I like to hang out there for a few seconds, kind of ease into the stretch. If you like, you can always augment your hamstring flexibility with additional hamstring stretches, pg 209 of our book.

Best,

Aurelia 

GM Teacher

Nice article. I have full thickness tears of hamstring likely from years of sacral sitting and shortening of hamstrings at ishial tuberosity inserion site. I work at the hip hinge often but also I'm trying to stretch and release spasms ishial tuberosities to support healing. Do you like doing figure 4 pose or using a ball in that area to release? I also found lying on back with lower back elevated and hips hanging off a little feels like a release. Is this helpful?  Any other ways to release?

Yes to Figure 4 pose (though it's more addressed to the external hip rotators than the hamstrings). Yes to ball. Yes to anything that is gentle and feels good. The Appendix in my book has some hamstring stretches lying on your back and usng a strap. There are many ways, but be sure to include the ones built into your daily life - those have the most potential to transform your situation. Good luck! 

I'm a bit confused by how the forward-tilted sitting, as shown, keeps the hamstrings longer? Look at her lower legs, which are bent back at the knees. The hamstrings attach below the knees, so this is actually a shortened position for the hamstrings. This does however perhaps take compressive pressure off of where the hamstrings attach, and spreads the load more on the bottoms of the thighs? That might help by having less compression at the attachments when sitting, and so perhaps help with blood flow there when seated.

I'm fully on-board with hip hinging, though, I think that's great for hamstring/glute and low back health.

You're right! I tend to group gluteus maximus with the hamstrings in my thinking, but that's not technically accurate. I've edited the post for greater accuracy. It's only gluteus maximus whose length is maintained in stacksitting with an anteverted pelvis. Thanks!

Presuming the lower leg bend is the same whether the pelvis was retroverted (tucked) or anteverted (forward-tilted), then the hamstrings would indeed be more lengthened in the anteverted position.  They are drawn further away from their insertion behind the knee as the sitz bones, where they originate, travel in the opposite direction.

My wife once described my hip hinging as "bending over while sticking your butt out." When I hip hinge, I do tend to stick my butt out as I attempt to maintain my weight toward my heels and feel a stretch in my hamstrings. Is that appropriate? Thanks. 

It's normal for your behind to be behind you and rise up as you bend. If you're not used to this position, it might feel like "sticking the butt out." To someone who is not used to seeing you do this, it could look like "sticking the butt out." you and your wife just need to get used to this new (old!) way of using your body. 

What you want to be sure you are not doing is tightening your back muscles to arch the butt backwards. This kind of "sticking the butt out" would cause unhealthy compression in the low back. 

Small additional note: Don't try to maintain your weight over the heels; it's normal for the weight to shift forward when you bend.