TO STRETCH OR TO STRENGTHEN? WHAT WOULD YOUR HAMSTRINGS BENEFIT FROM THE MOST? Written by: Jaimie Perkunas DPT, e-RYT, C-IAYT Tucson J Specialty Yoga Instructor When to stretch your hamstrings vs when to strengthen your hamstrings. If you have low back pain or poor posture, you will likely be encouraged to stretch your hamstrings. Although I mostly agree with this statement, I believe there is a point when stretching your hamstrings is no longer helpful, and strengthening your hamstrings is key. The hamstring muscles are made up of three muscles located on the back of each thigh. These muscles connect from the bottom of your pelvis (the bones that you sit on) to the back of your lower leg just below your knee. When the hamstring muscles are tight, functional activities like tying shoes or picking a pen off the floor can be challenging. Tight hamstrings can also affect one’s standing posture and balance. Standing upright with knees straight will result in the pelvis being tucked under leading to a hunched posture, and can pull a person’s center of gravity backwards. WHEN TO STRETCH YOUR HAMSTRINGS If you can relate to the challenges above, then I would recommend stretching your hamstrings. Another way to determine if your hamstrings need stretched is to position yourself on your back with one leg straight in the air and one leg bent (see picture). While in this position, if you are unable to lift your top leg to make an 80-degree angle between your torso and thigh while keeping your top knee straight, then continue to stretch your hamstrings. 6 J LIFE I recommend a lying down hamstring stretch using a doorway to help you maintain a sustained stretch. In the beginning, find a position where you feel just a small stretch as the stretch may increase as you maintain/sustain the stretch. Make sure your top knee is straight and keep your bottom knee bent with your foot on the floor. Make sure this is a position you can breathe deeply in. You can increase your stretch by moving closer to the wall and decrease your stretch by moving away from the wall. Keep your top knee straight throughout the stretch. You may find flexing and pointing your foot during the stretch helpful to release pulling behind your knee. I would recommend working up to a sustained 2 to 3-minute stretch on each side. WHEN TO STRENGTHEN YOUR HAMSTRINGS When hamstring muscles are too flexible or overstretched, there is potential for pain in the low back or hips. It is also quite possible that you have no pain and are not aware of the strength you may be missing on the back of your thigh. I recommend strengthening your hamstrings to avoid overstretching and bring a balance of strength and flexibility to your hamstrings. If you are able to bring your thigh beyond 80 degrees between your torso and thigh before your feel a stretch or you don’t really ever feel a stretch in back of thigh then I recommend not stretching your hamstrings. Instead, I recommend strengthening your hamstrings. Here are few of my favorite ways to strengthen hamstrings in flexible people.