Hamstrings are a group of muscles that run along the back of your thighs, starting at your lower pelvis and attaching to your knee and lower legs. They are often the culprit for various sports injuries and chronic pain due to tightness. Once your hamstrings are tight, it can lead to poor posture, low-back pain, and a variety of other issues. Yoga poses can be critical additions to most training programs since they can help improve flexibility and mobility in your hamstrings and set you up for better movement patterns while running, biking, and playing sports. Here, three key benefits of yoga for athletes, plus six poses to support your sport.
1. Improved Performance and Joint Health
The posterior chain (muscles along the back of your body) is vital in all aspects of athletic performance. Strong and flexible hamstrings can improve running efficiency, agility, and power. Your body will recruit other muscle groups when needing to compensate for tight hamstrings, which will require more energy and can contribute to injuries. A full range of motion will also ensure healthy joints.
2. A Healthy Spine
Tight hamstrings reduce the mobility of your pelvis, which in turn increases strain and pressure on your lower back. Your hamstrings are an essential part of your knees, pelvis, and spine health. Flexibility in this area will support a proper upright posture. Everyday movement patterns like walking, running, sitting lead to shortening and tightening of your hamstring muscles. Consistent stretches to increase flexibility in this area will counter and bring them back to a balanced and healthy state.
3. Lower Risk of Injuries
If your hamstrings are tight, it can cause the posterior (rear) tilt of your pelvis and lead to strain and weakness in your low back, often resulting in chronic pain and injuries. Other muscles will compensate for tight hamstrings. Muscle imbalances and poor recruitment patterns can lead to many problems. Knee pain in runners is also a common issue due the strain caused by tight hamstrings.
In addition, there are many good reasons to focus on hamstring flexibility even if you are not an active athlete or runner. You may just find that you have resolved the cause of your chronic lower-back or knee pain and rediscovered freedom of movement.
Incorporate these six poses into your routine to achieve your fitness goals and maintain a healthy and balanced body.
6 Yoga Poses for Athletes with Tight Hamstrings
Downward Facing Dog Pose
Start in a Plank position, hands under your shoulders and feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and lift your hips up and back, moving into a triangular shape with your hips being the apex of the pose. Root all corners of your hands, knuckles and finger pads evenly down, and energetically lift your shoulders away from your hands, and your hips away from your shoulders to extend the spine. Starting with your knees bent, press your upper thighs back and away from your torso and gradually work toward straightening your legs as your heels reach down toward the ground. Stay here for 5-7 breaths
Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose
Lie down with your legs extended on the ground. Hug one knee into your chest, keeping both corners of your hips grounded and leveled. Wrap a yoga strap around the ball of your foot holding either end of the strap with each hand, or hook your big toe with your index and middle fingers. Press through the ball of your foot and extend your leg up toward the ceiling and your torso. Ground and center your shoulders and your hips as you make the transition. Take 5-7 breaths, release mindfully, then switch sides
Intense Side Stretch Pose
Stand with your feet 3-4 feet apart, aligning heel to heel. Point your front foot straight forward and turn your back foot out to 30-45 degree angle. Hinging at your hips, fold forward and place your hands onto blocks on either side of your front foot with your knees bent to create more space in your hamstrings and pelvis. Square your hips to the front corners of your mat and elongate all sides of your torso. Gradually extend your legs toward straight without changing the position of your hips in space. Ground the outside edge of your back foot and root down through the big toe mound of your front foot. Take 5-7 breaths and switch sides.
Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend
Stand with your feet wide apart (about 3-4 feet) and parallel to each other. Hinge at your hips and fold with an elongated spine. Place your hands to the blocks or to the ground directly under your shoulders. To deepen the stretch in your hamstrings, bend your elbows back and walk your hands toward the space between your feet. Be sure to deepen the fold from your hips and not by rounding your spine. Root firmly through the 4 corners of your feet, continue to engage your quads, brace your core, and elongate your spine. Take 5-7 breaths, then reverse your way all the way up to stand and release the pose.
Start in a runner’s lunge position with your left leg forward and your hands on the blocks on either side of your leg. Glide your hips back to stack over your right leg. Straighten your left leg and (dorsi) flex at the ankle joint so that your left toes move toward your left shin. Square your hips toward the front edge of your mat and maintain a long spine; hinge at your hips and fold forward to deepen the hamstring stretch. Maintain your legs in a neutral (not rotated) position since the rotation of your legs will lead to the turning of your hips. Take 5-7 breaths and release the pose. Switch sides.
Stand with your feet wide (3-4 feet) apart facing a long edge of your mat and parallel to your feet. Spin your left heel in and your toes out so that your left foot is now parallel to the long edge of your mat. Hinge deeply in the corner of your left hip and fold laterally over your left leg. Place your right hand on a block on the outside of your right foot and reach your left hand directly over and in line with your left shoulder. Maintain a long spine from its base to the crown of your head. Spiral the left side of your torso away from the ground. Root the big toe mound of left foot firmly as you lift the inner arch. Activate your quadricep and brace your core to find stability. Take 5-7 breaths and release the pose. Switch sides.