Say hello to your hamstrings. They're probably not the muscle you look at every day, but I'm sure you notice them on other people. We were born with these huge muscles on the backs of our legs, and in order to be fit and fast, it's our job to ensure that we're stretching hamstring muscles correctly.
What is a Hamstring?
The hamstring muscles are a group of muscles on the back of the leg. Running from the back of your shin bone all the way up to the pelvis, these long and powerful muscles are the crux of all movement you do around the hip and knee. Hamstring muscles are responsible for bending the knee and straightening the hip after you bend forward. In physio-terminology they are knee flexors and hip extensors.
Your hamstring flexibility has a lot to do with how well your hip and knee operate. Chronic low back pain, for instance, is blamed often times on the lower back when in reality it can be caused by weak or shortened hamstrings. Weak hamstrings occur due to lack of training and improper movement. As we age, we often begin to develop improper movement patterns and over-use the front of the leg, causing a weakening of the back of the leg. Plus, a sign of our times is the shortening of the hamstring. We sit a lot nowadays. At no other time in human history have we parked our butts in chairs to work, eat, and watch...whatever as musch as we do now. When we sit for a long period of time the hamstring muscles can actually weaken and lose their ability to stretch and perform.
So, with muscles that are not being used and their ability to perform stunted, we get injured and become weaker. Let's try to prevent that from happening, OK?
5 Hamstring Stretches to Do Every Day
Elbow to Instep Stretch
Begin by lunging forward with your front leg, allowing the back knee to bend slightly to ensure you get into a position where the front knee is directly over the ankle once in a lunge. Take the elbow that is on the side of the front leg and reach it and your forearm to the floor. So if the left leg lunged forward, your left elbow would reach to the instep of the left foot. The goal is to place the forearm completely on the ground. You will feel the inside of the lunging leg stretch. That stretch is happening in your hamstring. Hold for 5 seconds and then switch legs. Perform 10 total stretches.
To scale up this movement, you can take the same hand that was reaching for the floor and press it into the inside of the knee. Rotate the torso towards the lunging leg and really get a wonderful lower back and pelvic stretch.
Begin by lunging forward and allow your back knee to remain slightly bent so as to widen the lunge step. Once in a lunging position, reach your hands down to the floor straddling the lunging leg. With your torso centered over the lunging leg, press through the heel and try and extend the leg. Done correctly, you will feel the stretch right through the middle of the hamstring. Hold for only 1 second and then return to the lunge position with the knee over the ankle. Allow the back knee to touch the floor in between each rep. Perform 7-10 pulses on one leg before switching to the other.
Coach's Tip: Keep your core engaged the entire time you are pulsing to ensure that the pelvis and leg stay in the correct position.
Single Leg Toe Touch
Begin by engaging your core and squeezing your butt to ensure your spine is straight. Unweight one leg and hinge at the waist. Bend forward with the arms outstretched in front of you. Make sure the non-working leg is in the right place with the toe turned inwards and upwards. Bend forward until the hamstring says ‘stop’. Squeeze the hamstring and glute to extend the hip back to standing. Perform 10 reps total, alternating legs each time.
Coach's Tip: Keep your eyes focused forward on a target for balance. The hamstring is responsible for strengthening the hip, knee, and ankle. This is a great exercise to do before performing any sprint day or lower-body strength training.
Begin with a wide foot stance with your feet way outside shoulder width. With your core tight and back flat, push your hips backward and shift the weight towards the left side. It's OK to let your chest fall forward if that allows your hips to travel farther backward. Sit back and down as low as possible. Allow the opposite foot to rotate up onto the heel for the most epic of hamstring stretches. You will feel the inside of the hamstring muscles as well as the middle hamstring belly muscles. Hold for 1 second and then stand tall through the heel and shift weight to other leg. Perform 10 Cossack Lunges total.
Coach's Tip: It's normal to have one hip that's more flexible than the other. With regular practice you should see balance be restored and strength improve.
Banded Good Morning
To add some challenge try this resistance band stretch. (Don't have a resistance band? Get one in our Tough Mudder Training Kit.) Step both feet onto the resistance band, squat down, and loop the band over your head and onto the top of your shoulders. Stand up and straighten your feet out. Engage your core and keep your shoulders pulled back and down. Finally, hinge at the waist slowly and feel the tension of the band pulling your torso forward. Push your butt backward with the knees soft (not bent) and slowly lower until your hamstrings tell you to stop. Without releasing your core, push your hips forward and use the hamstrings to extend back to standing. Perform 2 sets of 15 reps followed by 15 squats.
Coach's Tip: Once you have a range of motion, you can add some speed to the hip extension. When you push your hips back forward, squeeze your butt and accelerate fast. This is a great exercise for performance and a great warm up for all running days.
Eric "EROCK" Botsford is Tough Mudder Bootcamp's Creative Director. Eric is a Strength and Conditioning coach who holds certifications in Olympic Lifting, Gymnastics, Kettlebells, Nutrition, CrossFit L2, and Power Athlete Methodology. Eric has done 52 Tough Mudders, 2 Toughest Muddders, and 3 World's Toughest Mudders. He is well-known as the Host of CBS' Tough Mudder X competition and a Tough Mudder Start Line Emcee.