Whether you're a runner, a lifter, or a living-room-workout-when-I-can girl, at some point or another, your hamstrings have been tight. Tight hamstrings can make your hips, lower back, and even your knees hurt.
Your hamstrings are the muscles in the back of your thighs, and each leg has four individual hamstrings. These muscles are responsible for flexing your knees, among other motions. (Stand on your right leg and put your hand on the hamstrings of your left leg. Bring the left heel up toward your butt and let it back down slowly. As you do, you'll feel the hamstrings working.)
Although you don't need to be able to do the splits, having hamstrings that can move well without pain is important. These three yoga moves will help you give those hammies a nice stretch, so you can feel better immediately and build powerful range of motion over time.
Pose 1: Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Stand with your feet about 2-3 feet apart. Relax your toes, rooting your feet evenly through the soles. Pull your feet away from one another as if you're ripping the mat apart underneath you. This will help you create space and length through the backs of your legs and widen your sit bones.
Tilt your hips so that the tip of your tailbone is facing up toward the ceiling, and try to keep the natural curve in your lower back as you lower your upper body down toward the floor. Lengthen through your spine and relax your neck so that the crown of your head faces the floor. At the bottom, take 10 deep breaths and imagine that your breath travels to the backs of your legs to create length and space.
Pose 2: Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Stand with your feet hip-width (or about two fists-width) apart. Root evenly through both feet and bend your knees slightly as your hips move back. Maintain your natural lower-back curve and keep your spine long as you hinge at your hips and place your hands on the floor (or blocks) on either side of your feet.
Let your neck relax so that the crown of your head is facing the floor. Take 10 breaths. For an added stretch, slightly rotate the tops of your thighs toward one another and place your hands behind your calves. Now pull your nose to your shins.
Pose 3: Pyramid Pose (Parsvottonasana)
If your hamstrings are on the tighter side, it may be helpful to have two yoga blocks for this pose.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step your left foot back and slightly to the left. Rotate your left foot so that it's at a 45-degree angle, root through the outside edge of the foot, and fully extend your left leg. Relax all 10 toes and align your hips so both sides face forward evenly. If you're using blocks, place them on both sides of your front foot.
As you fold forward, bend your front knee slightly to lengthen through your spine and reach the tip of your tailbone to the back of the room. Place your hands on the floor (or blocks), and start to straighten your front leg while keeping the length in your lower back. Take 10-15 deep breaths and sink deeper into the pose on the exhalations. Switch sides.
The Benefits Don't End With Your Legs
Not only will these poses lengthen the backs of your legs, they will calm your nervous system, lower blood pressure, and increase range of motion for future workouts. So, the next time you finish that run, lifting session, or just need to give those hammies a stretch, practice these three poses using your breath for a little extra length and stress relief.