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We’re going to assume that you—like so many of us—experience tightness in your hamstrings. Whether you exercise intensely or find yourself stuck at your computer for longer than you’d like, simply moving through everyday life tends to overtax this group of muscles. What often results is a frustrating lack of flexibility that can make it tempting to move even less.
That would be a mistake.
The solution, rather than ignoring the situation, is to regularly practice yoga poses that target tight hamstrings.
What causes tight hamstrings?
In order to bend your knees, the hamstrings must contract. This shortens the length of the muscles which in turn draws the bones where the hamstrings originate—the lower leg and the hip—toward one another. This is universally true, whether you’re walking, hiking, running, climbing stairs, cycling, or, yes, sitting down. That is to say, almost constantly.
The regular use of this muscle group builds strength, but what’s needed to counteract this is more of the opposing action of straightening and stretching the back of your legs. This contributes to that elusive thing known as balance, which is needed not just in our days but in our muscles.
Because so much time is spent with contracted hamstrings, it’s crucial to stretch them regularly rather than just when they ache or you notice a lack of flexibility. As important as when you stretch is how you stretch. Less is more. Listen to your body and keep it at a stretch rather than a strain. Overexerting yourself in postures can actually cause the stretch to be less efficient or even be harmful. After all, overuse is what landed you in this situation.
7 best yoga poses for tight hamstrings
The following yoga poses for tight hamstrings are accessible to anyone—regardless of whether you’ve ever practiced yoga before—and can help minimize discomfort and enhance your ability to do the things you want.
Be proactive when it comes to protecting this group of muscles by using props, such as blocks and blankets, to provide support.
1. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
How this yoga pose helps tight hamstrings: Standing Forward Bend is an integral part of most vinyasa yoga classes, but it’s also an excellent stand-alone yoga pose for tight hamstrings that you can practice anytime, even quickly between meetings.
How to: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your hands on your hips. On an exhalation, fold forward from the hip joints and bring your chest toward your thighs and your hands to the floor beside your feet. Bend your knees as much as you need so that you feel some stretch but are not in discomfort. Relax your neck.
2. Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)
How this yoga pose helps tight hamstrings: Prasarita Padottanasana is another standing forward bend that will stretch the length of your hamstrings. Bonus: Taking the legs away from your body, as in this yoga pose, also stretches your hip flexors.
How to: Begin in Tadasana with your arms extended by your sides. Step your feet out so they’re in line with your wrists, keeping them parallel. On an exhalation, fold forward from the hip joints, keeping your torso open. Lower your fingertips to the floor.
3. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
How this yoga pose helps tight hamstrings: This seated forward stretch, known in yoga as Paschimottanasana, can easily be done in bed or while sitting on the floor and watching Netflix. The pose stretches your calves, hamstring, and back.
How to: Sit on the floor or the edge of a folded blanket with your legs stretched out in front of you. It’s absolutely fine to keep a bend in your knees. On an inhalation, lean forward at your hips while keeping your back straight. Reach your chest forward toward your toes rather than down toward your thighs. Rest your hands on your shins or you can loop a strap, belt, or towel around your feet and hold onto the ends.
4. Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose)
How this yoga pose helps tight hamstrings: Janu Sirsasana stretches the hamstrings as well as the hips and inner thighs while offering a slight spinal twist. By elongating one leg at a time instead of both, you can achieve a deeper and more targeted stretch in your hamstrings.
How to: Sit on a blanket or the floor with both legs outstretched. Bend your right knee and draw your heel back so it’s resting on your left inner thigh. On an exhalation, turn your torso slightly to the left, aligning your navel with the middle of your left thigh. On an inhalation, lift your torso while keeping your back straight and chest wide, and fold forward from your hips. Reach your hands forward toward your left foot. As you descend, bend your elbows out to the sides. Rest your hands on your shins or loop a strap, belt, or towel around your foot.
5. Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
How this yoga pose helps tight hamstrings: Supta Padangusthasana is a classic stretch for runners and offers a deep stretch for the hamstrings as well as the calves.
How to: Lie down with your back on the floor and your head rested on a blanket with both legs extended. Bend your left knee and place your left foot on the floor. Then bend your right knee and bring it toward your chest as you loop a strap, belt, or towel around the arch of your right foot. On an inhalation, press your right heel toward the ceiling, holding the ends of the strap in your hands. It’s fine to keep a bend in your right knee. Walk your hands up the strap until your arms are fully extended.
6. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
How this yoga pose helps tight hamstrings: Downward-Facing Dog Pose is a staple in yoga sequences because it stretches the entire back body—especially the hamstrings, but also the calves, glutes, hips, and back. It also allows you to find length and space in your body while you come back to your breath.
How to: Begin in Tabletop with your hands and feet shoulder-width apart. On an inhalation, tuck your toes. On the exhalation, press down through your knuckles and shift your hips up and back to come into Down Dog. Release your heels toward the floor although they don’t have to reach the floor. If you have tight hamstrings, adjust the yoga pose by bending your knees. You can stay still or walk it out by bending one knee and straightening the other, then repeating on the other side. Come back to stillness. Relax your neck and breathe here.
7. Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
How this yoga pose helps tight hamstrings: Triangle Pose offers a fairly intense hamstring stretch. Blocks are recommended under your front hand as they enable you to focus on the sensations in your leg instead of overexerting to reach your hand to the floor.
How to: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) at the front of the mat. Step your right feet back about 4 feet as if you were coming into Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2 Pose). Turn your right foot in slightly. Reach your arms straight out from your shoulders. On an exhalation, shift your hips toward the back of the mat and hinge at your hips to lean forward and lengthen your chest over your left thigh. Lower your left hand to the floor, a block, or your shin while reaching your left arm up to the ceiling. It’s perfectly fine to keep a bend in your front knee.
This article was originally published on April 2, 2021. It has been updated.