If you’ve ever gotten out of bed the morning after heavy deadlifts unable to straighten your legs, you’ve experienced sore and tight hamstrings. Your hamstrings are a large muscle group on the back of your thigh that extend and rotate your hip and bend your knee. Not just for stiff-leg deadlifts, they play a crucial role in walking, sprinting, and sports.
Hamstring injuries are common in athletes, and implementing a mix of dynamic and static hamstring stretches in your warm-ups and cool-downs may help you to avoid injury, ease stiffness, and increase your range of motion.
So what are the best ways to stretch out your tight hamstrings to potentially relieve daily pain and help you crush it in the gym? Let’s review 6 hamstring stretches and how, when, and why to do them.
The 6 Best Hamstring Stretches
- Standing Hamstring Stretch
- Seated Hamstring Stretch
- Supine Hamstring Stretch
- Standing Toe Touches
- Standing Leg Swings
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
The standing hamstring stretch is a static stretch that addresses one leg at a time. You can elevate your leg for more accessibility. Hinging from your hips and keeping your back straight will help you isolate your hamstrings and avoid causing unnecessary strain on your lower back.
A unilateral stretch helps you identify any side-to-side differences in flexibility. Performing this stretch from a standing position with a hip hinge will teach you to keep your core engaged to further protect your back. You can also modify this stretch to more of a dynamic movement in your warm-up.
How to Do the Standing Hamstring Stretch
- Stand upright with your feet hip distance apart.
- Extend your right leg forward with your right heel on the ground and toes pointing up. IF your hamstrings are tight, elevate your heel onto a yoga block or small box for more accessibility. Keep your left knee slightly bent.
- Place your hands on your hips. Hinge your hips backwards and keep your core engaged and back straight. Hinge until you feel a stretch in your right hamstring and hold.
- Hold your stretch and return to standing. Repeat on the opposite side.
Coach’s Tip: Keeping your hands on your hips will stop you from trying to reach towards the floor and round your back.
Sets and Reps: Perform two sets of 20 to 30 seconds static holds on each leg. For more of a dynamic stretch, try one set of five hinges with five second holds.
The seated hamstring stretch is a passive stretch that you perform on the floor. You can keep both of your legs forward or isolate one leg at a time. You can use a towel or yoga strap for assistance to get a deeper stretch.
When performed correctly, the seated hamstring stretch can help relieve tightness in your hips and your lower back. This is a useful static stretch to fully lengthen your hamstrings while keeping your back straight. You can further modfiy this stretch by slightly bending your knees.
How to Do the Seated Hamstring Stretch
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your knees slightly with your heels pressing into the floor and toes pointing up.
- Inhale to sit tall and exhale to hinge your hips back and lean forward. Keep your back straight, and reach your hands forward as far as you can until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
- Hold on to your feet or calves if you can. If you’re unable to grab your toes (and it’s ok if you can’t), loop a towel or yoga strap around your feet to shorten the distance between your hands and your toes.
- Alternatively, place the sole of one foot on your opposite leg’s inner thigh. Perform the same stretch by reaching for one side at a time.
Coach’s Tip: Try to keep your core engaged and back straight throughout the movement. Breathe deeply and don’t force yourself to go farther than you can.
Sets and Reps: Perform two sets of 20 to 30 second holds. If you are doing a unilateral seated hamstring stretch, perform two sets of 20 to 30 second holds on each leg.
The supine hamstring stretch is a passive stretch performed laying on your back; it stretches one leg at a time. You can loop a towel or yoga strap around your foot for assistance, or you can lay with your leg up against a wall for a deeper stretch.
If you would like to make this more of an active stretch, lift your leg straight up and hold it there without using assistance. Doing so will reveal to you your active range of motion. You can continue into an active straight leg raise as a dynamic warm-up to stretch and strengthen your hamstrings before any lower body workout.
The passive version can be a relaxing stretch that you can do even outside of a workout. With your back flat on the ground, you don’t have to work as hard to engage your core and keep your back straight; you can relax and breathe a bit more. Laying down with your leg up on a wall can also help with blood flow to your hamstrings, which may alleviate soreness and help you better recover from training.
How to Do the Supine Hamstring Stretch
- Lay flat on your back with both legs extended in front of you. Keep your non-stretching leg on the ground, or place the foot on the floor with your knee towards the ceiling to support your lower back.
- Lift one leg up by looping a towel or yoga strap behind your foot. Alternatively, place your heel against a wall.
- Pull your towel or strap towards you to straighten one of your legs toward the ceiling. If you’re instead using a wall to aid this stretch, slide your heel up it slowly at this point. Keep pulling or sliding until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
- Hold the position and breathe deeply for your desired amount of time. Lower down slowly and repeat on the other side.
Coach’s Tip: Assisted stretches can make it easier to overstretch — be sure that you can breathe comfortably and are not in pain.
Sets and Reps: Hold your supine hamstring stretch for 20 to 30 seconds on each leg for two to three sets.
The standing toe touch is a dynamic, active stretch that can be a great part of a warm-up. It’s important to keep your back straight rather than rounding it to truly stretch your hamstrings as you try to touch your toes.
Continuously moving through your toe touches can help get your blood flowing during a warm-up. This is also a great way to “activate” your hamstrings before a training session because you’ll be moving through slight knee flexion and hip extension. The movement is similar to a stiff-leg deadlift. The standing toe touch can also be modified by elevating your heels to help you get a greater stretch.
How to Do the Standing Toe Touch
- Stand upright with your feet hip width apart. Elevate your heels on a plate to access a greater range of motion.
- Hinge your hips back and engage your abs as you reach towards your toes. Keep your back straight.
- Reach as far as you can. Keep your knees slightly bent so you don’t hyperextend your knees.
- Return back to your standing position. Repeat for your desired number of reps.
Coach’s Tip: Be sure to keep your knees slightly bent, core engaged, and back straight so you don’t overly round your upper body in reaching for your toes. Although it’s called a toe touch, you don’t have to actually touch your toes, but feel the stretch in your hamstrings as you try.
Sets and Reps: Try one to two sets of 10 to 15 toe touches.
The standing leg swing is a unilateral dynamic stretch that takes your hamstrings through their full range of motion. You’ll move from hip extension to hip flexion as your blood flows in a similar movement pattern to walking or running. This works great in a warm-up before a workout or playing a sport.
The momentum of the leg swing is a great mobility warm-up for your hips in addition to your hamstrings. The active movement will help get your blood flowing before you train. You’ll also be balancing on your opposite leg and working your core to help stabilize your body.
How to Do the Standing Leg Swing
- Stand next to a wall or a sturdy object you can hold onto for extra balance (like a treadmill or squat rack)
- Place your right hand on the wall and keep your right foot on the ground. Engage your abs, squeeze your glutes, and softly bend your right knee.
- Swing your left leg forward and backwards while keeping your leg straight. Go as far as you can while maintaining balance on your standing leg. Complete all the assigned reps on your left leg.
- Step your left foot back on the floor. Turn around and repeat your leg swings going forward and back with your right leg.
Coach’s Tip: Don’t worry if you can’t swing your leg that high at first. It’s more important to feel your hamstrings engage and you can gradually increase your range of motion over time.
Sets and Reps: Perform one set of 12 to 15 leg swings on each side.
The inchworm is a dynamic movement that engages your core and tests your full-body mobility and stability, warming up your hamstrings in the process. There are a few options for how to perform the inchworm.
You can focus on keeping your legs as straight as possible while walking your hands out into your plank and then walking your hands back to your feet. Or, when you get to the plank position, you can try to walk your feet up to your hands while keeping your legs as straight as possible. From there, walk your hands forward again, and continue the motion for a set distance. The tighter your hamstrings are, the more difficult walking your feet to your hands will be.
For one more hamstring stretching option, walk your hands out to your plank and then press yourself back to a downward facing dog, and back again to a plank. You can bend your knees in your downward facing dog.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll actively stretch your hamstrings as you support your body weight with your hands and your feet. This is a full-body strengthening exercise that works as a dynamic warm-up and can also be part of a cardio workout.
How to Do the Inchworm
- Stand upright with your feet hip distance apart. Start with a soft bend in your knees.
- Hinge your hips back and keep your legs as straight as you can while reaching for the floor. Feel your hamstrings engage and stretch.
- Walk your hands forward one at a time until you’re in a plank position with your shoulders over your wrists. Hold your plank for a moment, squeezing your abs and glutes.
- Option one: Walk your hands back to your feet, stand up, and repeat.
- Option two: From your plank, walk your feet up to your hands, bending your knees as needed. Stand up. Hinge your hips and reach back down to continue.
- Option three: From your plank, press through your hands and shoulders and send your hips up and back into a downward facing dog. Feel an extra stretch in your hamstrings. Return to your plank. Walk your hands back to your feet. Stand up and repeat.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your core engaged throughout the movement to protect your spine.
Sets and Reps: Try one set of 10 inchworms as part of your warm-up.
How to Stretch Your Hamstrings
When stretching your hamstrings, always be mindful of your current range of motion and level of flexibility. While stretching tight muscles can sometimes hurt in a good way, you shouldn’t be feeling actual pain. If you do, stop what you’re doing. You can still benefit from stretching your hamstrings with bent knees. Give yourself time for your flexibility to potentially improve and you’ll be able to safely hold deeper stretches later on.
Hamstrings Stretch Selection
When you’re warming up for a training session or sport, select dynamic hamstring stretches like standing toe touches, standing leg swings, and inchworms. These exercises will engage your hamstrings through a full range of motion and in tandem with other body movements — allowing you to stretch your hamstrings in-motion.
For a post-workout cool down, passive stretches like the assisted supine hamstring stretch or seated hamstring stretch can feel great. Try using a wall, towel, or yoga strap to get a deeper stretch.
If you’re trying to increase flexibility or find relief from a stiff back after sitting, both the standing and seated hamstring stretches are great options because they are active but not too intense.
Hamstrings Sets and Reps
Choose dynamic movements for the beginning of your warm-ups or mobility workouts. They’ll get your blood flowing and prepare your body, muscles, and brain for more intense movement. Save your static stretches for your cool-downs once your muscles are warm and have been thoroughly worked. You’ll be able to relax a bit more.
Since you move in and out of your end range of motion in dynamic stretches, you can do more reps or time with them. Static stretches, while they may feel great, shouldn’t be done for too many reps or too much time.
Here are some options for how to program your stretches in different scenarios.
- For Warming Up: Try for 20 to 30 reps total of dynamic hamstring stretches. You can split them up into two sets of 10 to 15 reps.
- For Cooling Down: Hold your static hamstring stretches after your workout for 20 to 30 seconds for one to two sets.
- For Mobility Training: Begin with two sets of 10 to 15 reps of dynamic stretches. Next go for two sets of 30 second holds in your static stretches.
Remember not to push too hard in your static stretches, and back off or stop if you feel any uncomfortable pain. While your muscles will relax over time with some breathing, stay present and mindful of your limitations.
Hamstrings Stretching Tips
Safety and consistency are key to stretching your hamstrings. Here are a few tips to help you out.
Deep Breathing Is Key
Stretching tight muscles is a stress on your body, and your unconscious instinct may be to hold your breath. Instead, focus on breathing deeply in from your nose and out from your mouth. Try breathing in from deep in your stomach instead of your chest.
Diaphragmatic breathing or slow abdominal breaths can send signals to your brain, muscles, and nervous system that it is safe to relax. (1) However, if you can’t take a deep breath, it’s a sign that you may be pushing too hard in your stretch. Reduce the range of motion or bend your knees more.
Stretch Two to Three Times Per Week
If you’re looking to increase your flexibility or reduce stiffness, consider adding in a stretch session on an active recovery day. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends starting with a dynamic warm-up followed by static stretches two to three days a week. The ACSM notes that benefits of static stretches come from holding them for 15 to 30 seconds for two to four sets — any more than that and “no increase in muscle elongation occurs after 2 to 4 repetitions”. (2)
If you’re stretching your hamstrings as part of recovering from a hamstring strain surgery, it’s important to be under the care of your physical therapist or healthcare professional. Your DPT can prescribe physical therapy and the correct volume of rehabilitation work. Fitness professionals can suggest stretches to alleviate soreness from working out, but you should only take medical advice from medical doctors.
Don’t Forget Your Quads
Your quadriceps are the antagonist muscles to your hamstrings. When you contract your hamstrings, your quads are stretching. So when you stretch your hamstrings, your quads are contracting. Stretching your hamstrings will simultaneously work your quads at the same time, so stretch them as well.
If you have knee pain or low back pain, sometimes tight hamstrings, quads, hip flexors and glutes are the culprits. Performing lower body stretches for all of these muscles in addition to your hamstrings can improve your overall mobility and potentially reduce pain and soreness.
Benefits of Stretching Your Hamstrings
Regularly stretching your hamstrings — before, during, and outside of your workouts — can benefit your muscle and joint health, help you perform better in the gym, and feel better in your day-to-day life. Here are the top benefits.
May Help Induce Hypertrophy
If you’re up on the latest exercise science news, you may know that some more recent studies have investigated whether stretching may help induce hypertrophy.
Studies on animals have shown that long-term passive stretching caused an increase in muscle mass and maximal strength. This may be because the animal muscles are damaged by stretching in the same way that muscles are damaged by loaded resistance training. The damage then stimulates growth in muscle size and strength through the muscle recovery process. (3)
In 2020, a review of human studies sought out different types of stretching to examine their potential impact on muscle growth. People who passively stretched at a low intensity without pushing past their own range of motion did not experience significant hypertrophy. On the other hand, subjects that added higher intensity stretching with an external load in between sets of resistance training saw some enhanced muscle growth. (4)
The review backs the well-founded idea that mechanical tension — by the added load, or in between muscle contractions during a workout — contributes significantly to muscle growth. Passive stretching doesn’t grow muscle, but stretching under tension with added weight might. (4)
On a physiological level, your muscles don’t differentiate between tension applied during an intense stretch and tension from a free-weight exercise. The prevailing theory is that loaded stretching may augment muscle gained from traditional weight lifting, but there isn’t a credible basis to the idea that intense stretching is just as effective as hitting the weights.
May Increase Range of Motion
Studies show that some static stretching done separately from training may help increase your range of motion (ROM) in your joints. It’s unclear if the increased range of motion is from the muscle actually lengthening or if your tolerance to the stretch is increasing. (5)
Resistance training itself can also increase your ROM. A recent 2023 study suggests that strength training under load is equally as effective as stretching, and that stretching before or after your workout isn’t necessary to increase your flexibility. (6) Dynamic stretching before a workout is still considered integral to optimizing athletic performance, (5) but it may not have an impact on your overall flexibility as long as you are also resistance training.
In the eccentric portion of a deadlift, for example, your hamstrings are in a lengthened and stretched position. Focusing on feeling that stretch in your hamstrings during your heavy deadlifts may help you increase your ROM while building muscle.
May Improve Athletic Performance
Dynamically stretching your hamstrings may help improve your athletic performance. Studies show that performing dynamic hamstring stretches before exercise may decrease passive hamstring stiffness and increase your knee ROM, both of which can help you avoid injury during athletic activities. (7)
Having a greater ROM from regular stretching can also improve your performance by letting you feel less tight and more free in hamstring-heavy sports and activities like sprinting and deadlifting.
Stretching may also improve your blood flow and send more oxygen throughout your body — both key to a solid workout. This may happen because stretching creates more nitric oxide bioavailability in your body. (8)
Nitric oxide widens and relaxes your blood vessels which leads to improved vasodilation. This helps transport the blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your muscles that they need during training. More nitric oxide can then lead to better muscle performance and hypertrophy. (9)
May Relieve Lower Back Aches
Your hamstrings attach to the back of your pelvis, and it’s thought that tight hamstrings pull your pelvis into a chronic posterior tilt which affects your posture. Some data has shown that there may be a correlation between hamstring stiffness, pelvic tilt, and lower back pain in certain individuals. (10)
Overall data on the subject, though, remains inconclusive. Stretching your hamstrings may help improve pelvic mobility, which can then potentially relieve some stress on your lower back. Learning to mobilize your pelvis while stabilizing your lumbar spine in exercises could be beneficial, and the freedom of your hamstrings from chronic tightness may be a helpful piece of the puzzle.
[Read More: Best Posture Correctors That Provide Posture Support]
Editor’s Note: If you suffer from chronic lower back pain, seek out the advice of a medical doctor. Stretching may play a small part in your recovery, but you should always consult a medical professional before embarking on a specific treatment plan.
What Muscles Make Up the Hamstrings
Your hamstring muscles consist of three muscles located on the back of your thighs: the biceps femoris (a short head and a long head), semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. (11)
They attach to your pelvis, knee, and lower leg. Your hamstrings play a vital role in hip extension, rotation, and knee flexion. They’re at work when you’re standing, walking, jumping, sprinting, climbing stairs, squatting, deadlifting, lunging, and many other leg movements. That’s why it’s important to warm them up and cool them down.
- Biceps Femoris: Your biceps femoris flexes your knee and extends your hip. It also laterally rotates your tibia (lower leg) when your knee is flexed.
- Semimembranosus: Your semimembranosus flexes your knee, extends your hip, and medially rotates your hip and tibia when your knee is bent.
- Semitendinosus: Your semitendinosus performs the same actions as your semimembranosus. It flexes your knee, extends your hip, and medially rotates your hip and tibia when your knee is bent.
More Training Content
Your hamstrings are part of your daily movements and athletic activities. Research shows that dynamically warming them up can help you avoid injury, and cooling them down and some passive stretching can help increase your flexibility. Looser hamstrings may even relieve some low back pain. So if you want to touch your toes or crush your squats and deadlifts without pain or injury, choose a proper mix of the best hamstring stretches and get going.
Check out some more of BarBend’s training content so you can build and strengthen powerful hamstrings — after properly warming them up.
- 5 Great Hamstrings Exercises For Strong Legs, Powered By Ghost Strong Equipment
- 7 Hamstring Curl Variations To Spice Up Your Next Leg Day
- Watch Bodybuilder Nick Walker Train Hamstrings During His Offseason
- Hamasaki H. Effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Health: A Narrative Review. Medicines (Basel). 2020 Oct 15;7(10):65.
- Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Feb;7(1):109-19.
- Warneke K, Brinkmann A, Hillebrecht M, Schiemann S. Influence of Long-Lasting Static Stretching on Maximal Strength, Muscle Thickness and Flexibility. Front Physiol. 2022 May 25;13:878955.
- Nunes JP, Schoenfeld BJ, Nakamura M, Ribeiro AS, Cunha PM, Cyrino ES. Does stretch training induce muscle hypertrophy in humans? A review of the literature. Clin Physiol Funct Imaging. 2020 May;40(3):148-156.
- Behm DG, Chaouachi A. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 Nov;111(11):2633-51.
- Alizadeh S, Daneshjoo A, Zahiri A, Anvar SH, Goudini R, Hicks JP, Konrad A, Behm DG. Resistance Training Induces Improvements in Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2023 Mar;53(3):707-722.
- Iwata M, Yamamoto A, Matsuo S, Hatano G, Miyazaki M, Fukaya T, Fujiwara M, Asai Y, Suzuki S. Dynamic Stretching Has Sustained Effects on Range of Motion and Passive Stiffness of the Hamstring Muscles. J Sports Sci Med. 2019 Feb 11;18(1):13-20.
- Kruse NT, Scheuermann BW. Cardiovascular Responses to Skeletal Muscle Stretching: “Stretching” the Truth or a New Exercise Paradigm for Cardiovascular Medicine? Sports Med. 2017 Dec;47(12):2507-2520.
- Gonzalez AM, Townsend JR, Pinzone AG, Hoffman JR. Supplementation with Nitric Oxide Precursors for Strength Performance: A Review of the Current Literature. Nutrients. 2023 Jan 28;15(3):660.
- Jandre Reis FJ, Macedo AR. Influence of Hamstring Tightness in Pelvic, Lumbar and Trunk Range of Motion in Low Back Pain and Asymptomatic Volunteers during Forward Bending. Asian Spine J. 2015 Aug;9(4):535-40.
- Rodgers CD, Raja A. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle. [Updated 2023 Apr 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-.
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