Hamstrings That Need to Loosen Up
April 10, 2016 7:25 AM   Subscribe

In the past couple of years I've noticed that my hamstrings are usually really tight. It's not painful, but I really notice the tightness even when I'm just walking around. More recently, my hips have started popping multiple times every day which seems maybe like not a good thing?

I sit at a desk all day, which I imagine is part of the problem, and I've always been an awful sloucher. When I Googled "tight hamstrings" I saw a lot of stuff about pelvic tilt and hip flexors, and stretches for all these different muscles I didn't even know existed. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. I'd love to start doing some stretches or yoga routines either in the morning and evening (or during the day at work) that could help me loosen up a bit.

I've never really done yoga before, mostly because the classes were too expensive for me, but suggestions for online videos or other resources I could do from home would be awesome.

I did buy a foam roller recently, which has been great for my shoulder and neck tension, but it doesn't seem to do much for my hamstrings.
posted by forkisbetter to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Even just doing the Sun A and Sun B salutaions in the morning (like, five repetitions of each) will greatly benefit you. In addition to vinyasa-style yoga, where you flow from pose to pose, you might also look into some yin poses for hips and hamstrings. Yin yoga is static, as opposed to flowing, and poses are typically held for 2-5 minutes at a time.
posted by Brittanie at 7:41 AM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I find that foam rollers don't provide enough focused pressure to loosen up my hamstrings when they're really tight. I love the Rogue Supernova but a solid regular ball might help, too. Something about softball-sized, I'd think.

I haven't used it, but my teacher recommends YogaGlo for home practice.

A few massages might help you out, too, and if there's a massage school in your area, that can be a pretty affordable way to get them.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:54 AM on April 10, 2016

There's a really good free yoga app called "Yoga Studio" that I use sometimes. You can set it for whether you want to do strength, balance or stretching, or a combo, and for how long. Yoga is great for all sorts of reasons, like everybody says.

However I have tight hamstrings/calves too, and found yoga actually not that much help in that department. My calves were so tight that I couldn't get to a hamstring stretch in the standard poses before my form deteriorated. Like, doing a seated stretch with your legs out in front and reaching for your toes, they want you to keep your ankles bent and your back straight rather than curling down over your legs. But my calves stopped me before my hamstrings ever got to stretch.

The only thing I've found to help the hamstrings is to just spend a few minutes a day standing and reaching gently for your toes.
posted by bluesky78987 at 8:38 AM on April 10, 2016

Do you have a current stretching/flexibility/mobility routine? Do you currently work out?

The big shift here is building a habit, either daily or several times weekly. It should feel good, it should make you feel better and like you accomplished something (because you did!), but the specific yoga video or flexibility program doesn't matter tremendously much. Pick one and do it every morning for a month. If you don't like that particular video, drop the video but keep the habit. If it feels better to do it after work instead of in the morning, cool.

My hamstring flexibility is nothing special, but I've noticed that hamstrings respond very well to frequency. Once a week doesn't help at all, three times a week helps a little, but twice a day? BAM they feel great and improve fast. This was true for every stretch or exercise I did. Specific exercises that helped include basically any stretch where you touch your toes, leg swings, Romanian deadlifts, walking, and running. I recommend not to get bogged down in details, but just touch your toes every few hours at work, and fit strength-training and/or running into your schedule a few times a week.
posted by daveliepmann at 8:45 AM on April 10, 2016

I stumbled on a series of "deep stretch" videos by a yoga instructor named Sarah Beth a few months back. I like the way she explains what body bit I should be paying attention to in each stretch, the way she introduces possible variations on stretches, and the length of time she holds each of the stretches. The length of these videos also works for me: roughly 20 minutes.

Here's her hamstring stretch video. You could start with this, see what works or doesn't work for you about this particular instructor's approach, and go from there.
posted by Hellgirl at 8:52 AM on April 10, 2016

Yoga with Adriene on YouTube!

I too have really tight hamstrings, and they're starting to relax a little with mindful, consistent yoga. Like bluesky78987 says, it can be tough to stretch your hamstrings with generic yoga poses if you also have tight calves or a tight back, etc.

However, Adriene's motto is "Find What Feels Good," and, related to that, she often says to "focus on the sensation rather than the shape." That means that if you're so tight in your hamstrings that you can't do a forward fold and put your hands on the ground, that's okay - bend your knees, or put your hands on a block instead of the ground, or just let them dangle. Over time, you'll make space in your tight places and be able to go further. All you're looking for is a stretch in your hamstrings, and as long as you're mindful and (super important!) don't push yourself into anything that hurts, you really can't do it wrong.

Adriene does have a video specifically on Yoga for Hamstrings, but I tried it pretty early on, before I really got the idea of sensation instead of shape, and I found it (at the time) frustrating and hard.

Instead, you might try her Yoga for Complete Beginners (if you've never done yoga before) or Gentle Yoga to start with. If you like her style, I'd definitely recommend something like 30 Days of Yoga or Yoga Camp (both 30-day challenges, though you can spread it out over as long as you'd like) next. I felt like doing yoga consistently really helped me, both in terms of strength/flexibility, and in terms of just really understanding the idea of sensation over shape.

Then go back to Yoga for Hamstrings. In fact, maybe I'll go back to that video today!

(For what it's worth, massage is wonderful, but as a fellow super-tight-in-the-hamstrings person, I found hamstring massage exquisitely painful. I like stretching/yoga a lot better.)

Good luck!
posted by bananacabana at 8:57 AM on April 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

As others have said, I have found that 5-10 minutes every day (or close to every day) is more beneficial than an hour once a week. I generally lie on the floor and pull one knee into my chest and hold for a bit, do eye of the needle pose because it really helps my low back, and then one leg up using a strap to hold my foot, which really targets my hamstrings. I've started then letting my raised leg fall open and hold it out to the side for a bit, and then letting the raised leg fall across my body (so, if my right leg is raised, letting it fall to the left) -- which hurts for the first few seconds, but which has almost solved my low-back pain. I finish by holding a yoga-style squat for a few counts, which helps my low back and hips.

It's super-simple, but it still makes a difference. There's nothing necessarily magic about those particular poses, they're just stretches that I picked up in various classes that I noticed either felt really good (yay!) or hurt a lot (which meant I needed them!) that are easy to do and don't require a lot of thought or props. I do recommend using a strap or something similar (a towel, a jumprope -- something non-stretchy) if your hamstrings are as tight as mine are, because it takes the struggle out of holding the pose and lets you concentrate on the stretch.
posted by lazuli at 10:02 AM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Agreed with some sun salutations, yoga with adriene in general, and standing forward bends every day. My hamstrings loosened up after a few months of yoga, in particular standing forward bends but it's nice to do a little sequence like the sun series. Pigeon pose is also great but eye of the needle is just as good and a bit easier for a beginner/on your own.
posted by lafemma at 10:32 AM on April 10, 2016

I started doing yoga with Rodney Yee videos I'd rented from the local library. I think that's a good start.

You might also want to check out MobilityWOD.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:49 PM on April 10, 2016

I'm going to go against the grain here and suggest pilates as a starting point. You'll find it much easier to do yoga after a couple months of focused pilates. I used to have a really hard time with a lot of yoga poses because of similar tight hip / hamstring issues, and I learned a bunch of very specific-to-me stretches in pilates that I now do *before* yoga. Once I've stretched, yoga is awesome.

Also yes, foam rollers and massages.
posted by ananci at 2:14 PM on April 10, 2016

None of the seated yoga poses worked for me to stretch my hamstrings until I learned to not be ashamed and just sit on a whole pile of blankets. That way I could actually get my torso past vertical and use gravity to gently help me. Finding a yoga teacher or video with good modifications for tight people is really hard (since the teachers themselves typically don't have this problem) but incredibly valuable.

Don't be afraid to bend your knees, use props/straps, etc. to get your body in to some position that feels good. What I've always called motorcycle pose (but doesn't seem to be called that by anyone else) helped my hips a bunch, sit with your legs in a butterfly, but push your feet way out, then start to work your arms under your calves so that eventually your elbows are just behind your knees and your hands are grabbing the outer edge of your feed.
posted by lab.beetle at 7:28 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm plinth, and I have incredibly tight hamstrings.
(hi plinth)

If I don't stretch regularly, I end up herniating discs in my back. This is, as they say, no fun at all. What? Your back gets hurt by your hamstrings? Yup. Hamstrings attach to your pelvis and tight hamstrings will yank your pelvis down and change the curvature of your lower spine, etc.

A large number of yoga poses will stretch your hamstrings and if you want to try, try.

What I do is lie down on the floor with my legs in a doorway. I scoot to one side and put my leg up on the door frame and leave it there for a minute or two then scoot to the other side of the door frame and repeat with the other leg.

The trick, if there is one, is to make sure that the angle of elevation of the "up" leg is enough to get a good enough stretch. Over time (weeks, months), you will need to scoot further in.

As far as slouching goes, fixing that falls in the category of "trunk stabilization exercises". Again, many yoga poses are trunk stabilization and regular yoga will do that for you, but coming off of a back injury, the physical therapy had a set of exercises for building trunk stability that went from very easy to much harder, and all were on your back (which is convenient, because you just stretched your hamstrings, right?):
Tilt your pelvis and hold for a half minute then release. Repeat 4-5x. When this is trivial, do:
Bring your feet closish to your butt and lift your butt just off the floor. Hold for however long you can. Repeat. When holding this for half a minute is trivial, do:
A basic bridge. Again, when this is easy:
Bridge, then lift one foot off the floor, hold, put down, repeat with the other. When this is easy:
Bridge, then extend one leg out in line with your body, hold, put down, repeat with the other.
And there are way more, but I've had conversations with physical therapists where I have rejected some of the exercises because they take an unrealistic amount of time or equipment. Keeping it pragmatic is a greater aid in long-term success, so fewer, simpler exercises consistently are better for you than more, complex exercises that you won't do.
Good luck!
posted by plinth at 6:57 AM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm currently sitting at my desk at work, with my legs elevated on roller drawer cabinets either side of my desk (calves contact the cabinet and balls of feet touch the divider between mine and my colleague's desk) . I can see the toes of my shoes poking up either side of the back of my desk, and I try to sit up pretty straight and stretch toward my keyboard from time to time (even grabbing the back of my desk to pull my torso forward). I can feel this stretching my calves/hamstrings and thighs - it was tricky at first but it's getting better. I've been sitting like this for a couple of hours a day for a few months, and I feel it's really helped with hamstring tightness. Calves might get a little numb after an hour, but just get up and walk around.
posted by guy72277 at 12:58 AM on April 13, 2016

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