A lot of people struggle with tight hamstrings. And most who struggle with this problem are often mislead when it comes to best strategies for fixing it.
This post is going to give you 6 of the best exercises we use at Next Level PT to permanently improve hamstring mobility, but first, it is important to understand the “why” behind these exercises.
Unless you have developed an actual contracture of a muscle…which if you don’t have a serious medical condition like spastic cerebral palsy is very unlikely…there is no need to physically elongate a “tight” muscle.
In fact, static stretching might be the worst way to improve your mobility…regardless of whether we’re talking hamstrings, hip flexors, or just about any other muscle in your body.
So DON’T EVER point to a 12 year old kid and tell me, “He/She has tight hamstrings. They need to stretch”…that’s not how our bodies works.
There is certainly a time and place for joint mobility and myofascial work, but in many cases (particularly in active people with minimal injury histories), mobility can be drastically improved by correcting dysfunctions in muscle synchronization.
YOUR HAMSTRINGS ARE NOT “TIGHT”…THEY JUST FEEL TIGHT
Let’s talk through what happens when a person with “tight” hamstrings bends down to try to touch their toes…
To go through a proper toe touch pattern, there are a lot of switches that need to be hit in a certain order to allow you to move freely. These “switches” tend to be deeper stabilizing muscles in your hips and core that rely far more on timing than strength to produce stability.
If the synchronization of these “switches” is off, your body will put the brakes on at a certain point to prevent you from entering what the brain perceives to be a dangerous range of motion.
The “brakes” in this instance are your hamstrings.
If the body does not generate stability from the muscles it should be getting it from, the hamstrings kick in to stabilize the hips.
The hamstrings are meant to produce power when you move, not stabilize your hips.
So when this happens, you feel “tightness” in your hamstrings.
WHAT YOU GET WHEN YOU STRETCH
Now if you try to stretch through this “restriction”, you will likely be able to improve you mobility some. The changes you achieve, however, will inevitably be unauthentic and transient (not permanent).
There have been a lot of studies done on stretching, and at this point the consensus on the mechanism of stretching is as follows…“stretching improves mobility by decreasing your body’s sensitivity to stretch”.
That’s like saying…
A BETTER WAY TO LONG LASTING MOBILITY GAINS
The research on hamstring mobility states that you can improve your mobility by ~14-18 degrees with 6-8 weeks of stretching daily.
During my residency, I conducted research on the effects of diaphragm function on hamstring mobility. We used a <2 minute hands-on breathing reset technique on people with chronically “tight” hamstrings, and the results were astounding!
We consistently changed people’s mobility by 25-30+ degrees…in less than 2 minutes…by resetting breathing!
Why did this work?
Your diaphragm…the muscle that drives your breathing…is the main synchronization point for your hip and core musculature. We often find dysfunctional breathing patterns in people with hip mobility issues. So reestablishing normal diaphragm function essentially re-synchronizes the system, which ultimately allows it to express greater mobility.
So please don’t tell me that you need to stretch to fix tight hamstrings!
Reorienting/Resynchronizing your core and hip control is the secret for great, long lasting hamstring mobility.
OK, ENOUGH THEORY. WHAT ABOUT THE EXERCISES?
Now usually it takes a guided exercise progression that has multiple levels to achieve real, lasting gains in hip/hamstring mobility (i.e. a few hours after our breathing reset technique, the effects wear off).
But, here are 6 of the exercises we commonly use to help people regain normal hamstring mobility. These exercises will not work for everyone, but they represent a common starting place for a lot of people that we work with.
90/90 Hip Lift with Balloon Breathing:
Modified All Four Belly Lift with One Hand Lift:
Bench 90/90 Alternating Crossover Reach:
Quadruped Right Glute Wall Push:
Toe Touch Progression:
Band Assisted ASLR:
Hope this helps!