Tight hamstrings are a common reason for a runner’s form to change from good to bad.
It is also surprisingly common for runners to not realize that their hamstrings are tight and that they are changing their form.
For this reason, we recommend doing some of the best hamstrings stretches for runners regularly to release tension and keep them loose.
How Hamstrings Function
The hamstrings are a combination of three separate muscles at the back of the thigh. These three muscles are called the bicep femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.
The bicep femoris is a two-headed muscle that allows your knee to rotate and flex, as well as your hip to extend, while the semimembranosus extends the thigh, lets the knee flex, and allows the tibia to rotate. This muscle connects to the back of the tibia.
When we look at the semitendinosus muscle, we notice that it’s the longest of the hamstring muscles and consists mainly of fast-twitch muscle fibers. This muscle is also responsible for extending the thigh, allowing the knee to flex as well as letting the tibia rotate.
These muscles cross the knee and hip joints, and together they enable movements like climbing, walking, and running. They are responsible for stabilizing the hip when you lean forward, to prevent you from falling.
They also help to stabilize the knee, in combination with other ligaments. But the hamstrings are also responsible for slowing us down—deceleration.
Our hamstrings are often neglected and can become tight for a number of reasons. Sporting activities and having a sedentary lifestyle can both cause hamstring tightness. Sometimes you don’t realize how tight they are until you try and touch your toes and you discover you can’t reach them.
Posture can be affected by weakened abdominal and glute muscles, and this will affect the position of the pelvis; it may be tilted forward or backward. This will, in turn, affect the hamstrings, as they need to compensate for the weakened muscles, making them tighter.
Tight hamstrings can lead to injuries like hamstring tears or strains. But tight hamstrings can also be the reason why you have lower back pain.
Hamstring Stretches and Exercises
When performing these hamstrings stretches, select three or four to do, and perform two to three sets of each. Holding the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds will be sufficient.
1. Wall-Supported Single-Leg Stretch
For this stretch, you will lie in a doorway. Lift one leg and place it against the wall beside the door, with your heel on the wall and your leg extended fully.
Your other leg will be on the floor, going through the doorway. You want to flex your foot and push your leg against the wall until you feel the stretch in your hamstring and hold it for as long as you can.
If your hamstring is very tight, you may not be able to bring your entire leg close to the wall. You may have to rest your foot against the wall with your leg at an angle, your hips being further away from the wall.
This is okay. Keep your leg at the angle where you feel a decent stretch, and try each time to increase this range of movement.
Switch legs and do the other side. Repeat both sides a few times, until you feel that the hamstrings have warmed up.
2. Standing Toe Touch
This is one of the best-known and easiest hamstring stretches. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back and your knees straight.
Reach for your toes. If you can’t touch them, keep reaching forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Hold it as you inhale, and when you exhale, try to reach a little further—without hurting yourself or overdoing it.
When you feel you have reached your maximum stretch, hold the position for 30 seconds. Then hinge back up slowly at the hips, still keeping the back and legs straight. Repeat two to three times.
3. Standing Hamstring Stretch
This stretch is another popular one that you may recognize. Stand upright with your feet planted hip-width apart. Take a significant step forward with one foot and bend the front knee slightly. Your back leg will remain straight.
Slowly shift your weight to your front leg, taking care to keep your back leg straight and your foot planted on the floor, until you can feel the hamstring stretching.
Hold this position for 30 seconds before returning to your standing position. Then switch legs, and repeat two to three times.
4. Seated Hamstring Stretch
Begin this stretch by sitting on the ground with both legs straight out in front of you. Your legs should be as flat against the floor as you can make them.
Without hunching over, hinge at your hips and fold your upper body over. Bring your torso as close to your thighs as you can, while extending your arms straight out in front of you.
Make sure to keep your legs on the ground fully. If they start to lift, stop the stretch just before that point so they are still against the ground.
Hold the position—or the position where you feel a stretch if your legs are still on the ground—for 30 seconds before slowly returning to the starting position and repeating.
5. Downward Facing Dog
This is a classic yoga pose that is great for loosening up tight hamstrings. Start on all fours. Your knees should be about hip-width apart and your hands should be flat on the floor, directly under your shoulders. Your toes should be curled back and touching the ground.
Push your hips backward and stand back onto your heels, keeping your hands flat on the floor. You will be in an upside-down V shape. Do your best to keep your back straight, and your neck and head aligned with your spine.
You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Hold it for 30 to 60 seconds, then slowly lower back down to all fours and repeat as many times as you like.
6. Lying Hamstring Stretch With Band
Lie on your back on a comfortable surface. You can use a resistance band or a towel for this stretch. Wrap the towel or band around one of your feet, and slowly stretch this foot upwards, while keeping your other leg flat against the ground—both knees should remain straight.
Extend your leg as far as you can. You will feel a stretch in the back of your leg. From there, hold it for 30 seconds before returning to the starting position and switching legs. Repeat as many times as necessary.
7. Thread The Needle Glute Stretch
Although this stretch mainly targets the glutes, the hamstrings will also benefit from it. Begin by lying on your back on a comfortable surface. Lift one leg and place your foot flat on the floor, at around the level of your other knee.
Lift your opposite leg and place your foot on the thigh of the leg that’s raised. Grab the thigh of the leg with the foot on the floor, and pull it towards your chest. Go slowly, and you’ll soon feel the stretch in your glutes and hamstrings.
Hold for 30 seconds when you feel the stretch, and then relax your legs and switch sides. Repeat two to three times.
8. Runner’s Lunge Hip Stretch
Make sure you begin on a cushioned surface, as you start by kneeling. Place one foot on the floor in front of you, and extend the opposite leg behind you as far as it can go. The thigh of your front leg should end up parallel to the floor.
You can deepen the stretch by lifting your hands above your head for stability and leaning back slightly. Hold for the required 30 seconds, return to the starting position, and repeat on the other side.
9. Standing IT Band Stretch
This stretch is quite similar to the standing hamstring stretch. Instead of standing with your feet apart, you will cross one foot over the other, so your back leg has no choice but to remain in a locked-out position.
Then lean down and place your fingertips—or your full hands if possible—on the ground on the opposite side to the foot you crossed over.
If you want to get a deeper stretch, move your hands further away from your feet. Hold for 30 seconds, then stand up and switch feet.
10. Toes Pose Foot Stretch
This is a great foot stretch as well as helping to loosen up the hamstrings. Kneel on the floor, with your glutes resting on the bottoms of your feet and your toes flexed against the ground.
Flatten the bridges of your feet against the floor and lean backward slightly, placing your hands on the ground behind you so you are placing all your weight onto your feet. You should feel a stretch on the bottom of your feet, your ankles, and your hamstrings.
Make sure that you are doing this stretch on a comfortable surface. A hard surface will hurt your feet as well as your knees. Hold it for 30 seconds before easing out of the position. Repeat two or three times.