As a runner, I have found so many benefits to adding yoga into my weekly movement. My two favorite "sensitive spots" that have improved drastically by doing yoga are my imbalanced hips and my tight hamstrings. Runners, you know what I am talking about!
Don't get me wrong, runners aren't the only ones who have tight hamstrings. Tight hamstrings are typically caused by any exercise that might emphasize hamstring strain. This could mean performing a conventional deadlift or playing in a rec-league soccer game. These exercises might not create hamstring tightness initially; but you may notice the next day that your hamstrings are stiff from the strain. You can also experience tight hamstrings from prolonged periods of sitting. This is because your hamstrings are stretched while in the sitting position. You'll notice once standing up, your hamstrings feel tight.
However you got here... you're here reading this blog post for a reason. Now it's time to put yoga poses to work and reap the benefits of flexible hamstrings.
Time for a Q + A:
Q) When should I stretch my hamstrings or perform this flow?
A) NOT before your workout. I don't care if you're running, lifting, or going skiing. Your hamstring stiffness is needed to have stability in your workout. Runners need hamstring activation to prevent them from falling forward; stretching your hamstrings decreases this stability. Lifters need hamstring stiffness to increase stability in deadlifts, lunges, and hip thrusts. Stretching your hamstrings before might make you feel less stable during these lifts and will prevent you from lifting heavier weights. Get my point? After your workout is a great time to practice these hamstring stretches. By utilizing these poses post-sweat, you can decrease soreness, increase mobility, and will even help balance out uneven joints.
Q) Why should I be concerned with tight hamstrings?
A) The obvious answer is comfort; tight hamstrings tend to be irritating when bending over to pick something up, aches at night or when still, and sometimes feel "zing-ing" pains when sitting in the car too long. To eliminate these feelings, it's a good to add hamstring focused yoga poses to your routine. To get a bit more granular, hamstring over-tightness can really hinder your running performance. Warming up might take too long, running might feel weak and less springy, and the recovery time will keep increasing (which is not the goal). Overly tight hamstrings can hinder the weight lifter too, by making it challenging to reach full ranges of motion in any hinging exercise. None the less, hamstring tension is great.. hamstring tightness is not.
Now, let's go to work!
You will repeat this hamstring-focused flow two times. Each time will become easier and more fluid. The more you practice these poses, the easier they will become and your hamstrings will respond.
Watch the video of this flow before beginning:
Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Forward Fold: Starting at the top of your mat, reach your arms overhead and lengthen your spine (standing nice and tall). As you begin to hinge at your hips, unlock your knees and circle your arms to the sides and down reaching for your toes. Your knees should be pretty bent in the beginning, focusing on drawing your chest towards your thighs. If you're able to touch your chest to your thighs and reach for the big toes, you can then begin to straighten your knees and send your butt higher to the sky. This is where you'll feel a fabulous hamstring stretch!
Exercise Prescription: Hold this pose for 30-60 seconds, feeling tension in your hamstrings but ensuring your knees have a slight bend.
Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Down dog: Plant your hands on the ground and step each foot to the back of the mat for downward facing dog. Here, you will tip your hips high to the sky and bend your knees enough to press your chest towards your legs. Once you have the initial pose, you can "pedal" your feet by sending one heel towards the ground and bending the opposite knee. Repeat and change sides.
Exercise Prescription: Pedal your feet and stretch your hamstrings for about 30-60 seconds. You can make these as intense or as light as you need them.
Standing Splits (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana)
Standing splits: starting in your forward fold (slightly bent knees, hips high, zest to thighs), shift your weight to the left side. Lift your right leg into the sky as high as you can without hiking up your right hip. You want to keep your hips in line. Rotate your right hip down so your toes point directly down. Keep your left knee soft, then work towards straightening the knee (without locking it out). This is where you will feel your hamstring work!
Exercise Prescription: From down dog, walk your feet towards your hands and meet in a forward fold. Once you set up your standing splits on your right side, hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana)
Triangle: Starting in your forward fold, inhale and stand up to mountain pose (tadasana). Step your left leg to the back of the mat and pivot your back foot to face the long edge of the mat. This will open your hips to face the long edge of the mat, too. Shift your left hip back as you rotate your upper body forward until your right arm reaches your shin. Extend your left arm to the sky and twist your chest to the sky. You will feel this hamstring in your front leg.
Exercise Prescription: Starting with your right leg forward, hold triangle pose for 30-60 seconds. Inhale and return to a wide leg upright position and begin the next exercise, wide leg forward fold. Once completed, you will repeat triangle pose at the back of your mat with your left leg forward. Hold this side for 30-60 seconds.
Wide Leg Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Before completing triangle pose on your left side, you will fold forward into a wide leg forward fold. To do this, hinge at the hips and lower your chest between your thighs. Grab your toes and use your arms to pull your chest closer to the center of your mat. Your knees should be soft and your hips pushing towards the sky. "Toe in" slightly initiating external rotation of your hips (internal rotation of legs).
Exercise Prescription: Hold this for 60 seconds before moving to triangle pose on your left side.
Revolved Hand To Big Toe Pose (Parivrtta Hasta Padangusthasana)
Revolved Hand to Big Toe Pose: Returning to the top of your mat, shift your weight to your left side. Inhale as you bend your right knee and bring it into your chest without assistance of your arms. Begin to extend your leg forward as your left arm "catches" the big toe. Once you feel stable, rotate your chest across your lifted leg (to the right side) and extend your right arm behind you. Be sure to keep your extended leg working as you push your foot into your hand. Keep your planted leg slightly bent. Keep both hips in line.
Exercise Prescription: Have fun with this balance pose! You have primed your hamstrings to be prepared for this leg extension. Practice makes perfect; practice as much as you'd like. Repeat on the opposite side.
Seated Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
Seated Head to knee Pose: When you are ready to cool down, make your way to your seat. Bring your left heal into your groin by bending the knee. Extend your right leg long but keep the right knee slightly bent. Pull your sits bones (glutes) to the side and sit up very tall before folding forward. Initially, fold forward at the hips. Once you reach a spot where you can go no further, round your spine and bring your forehead closer to your knee. You should keep a nice bend in your right knee to avoid locking out the joint. Grab on to the ankle, foot, or wrists and pull your chest closer to your thighs. You will feel a hamstring stretch in your extended leg.
Exercise Prescription: Hold these stretches for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
To my endurance athletes, you will only combat tight hamstrings if you prioritize stretching them. Your hamstrings are the prime muscles that prevent you from falling forward in any forward-moving sport. Runners, bikers, hikers, skiers.. your hamstrings are most likely tight. Practicing this flow will not only strengthen them, but create more flexibility and help you recover quicker and prevent soreness from your sport.
Take the following yoga flow and practice post endurance workout for maximal results.