Have you ever pulled a muscle in the back of your thigh or felt pain in your lower back? Chances are high that you injured your hamstring. The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located on the backside of your lower body that help us move through life. Along with the glutes and hips, they are some of the most important muscle groups we have.
Weak or over-lengthened hamstrings cause a real problem. The hamstrings connect to the hips and knees and are forced to overcompensate if we sit too long, have bad posture, or have *weak glutes*. You need strong and flexible hamstrings-and flexible doesn’t just mean you stretch them.
In this article, we’ll look at why you need strong and flexible hamstrings, why stretching your hamstrings isn’t always the answer, and the three best hamstring workouts you can do from home.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Where Are Your Hamstrings?</p></h4>
Your hamstrings are located on the back side of your legs, below the glutes and hips and above the knees. When you bend over at the waist with a tight back, you might feel your hamstrings stretch or tighten.
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The hamstrings are very important because they impact two major joints: the hips and knees. They are also among the largest muscles in your body. Your hamstrings help with many functional movements like <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/10-reasons-why-walking-is-the-best-exercise/">**walking**</a>, running, and bending over to pick things up safely. Using your hamstrings to pick up heavy objects protects your lower back from injury. They also work with the quadriceps (front of thigh) muscles to distribute force through the hips and <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/3-low-impact-exercises-for-bad-knees/">**knees**</a> (keeping your joints healthy).
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What Causes Tight Hamstrings?</p></h4>
Here are a few reasons you might have tight or weak hamstrings.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Weak Glutes</p></h5>
We’ve talked about how important the *glutes are*. In fact, they are one of the most important muscle in your body. Weak or ‘sleeping’ glutes cause your hamstrings to be overactive and will lead to tightening over time.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Bad Posture</p></h5>
Your lower back works with your leg muscles to stabilize your spine. When you slouch, your lower back muscles tighten up and your hamstrings are, again, forced to over-lengthen to compensate. Over time, this creates bad posture and muscle imbalances that lead to injury and tightness.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Too Much Sitting</p></h5>
Some doctors say sitting is the new smoking<sup>3</sup>. A bold claim, but prolonged sitting definitely causes issues. Besides its link to obesity and disease, lots of sitting will tighten up the lower body’s muscles like the hips, glutes, and hamstrings.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Previous Injury</p></h5>
If you were (or are) a runner or other type of athlete, previous hamstring injuries may still bother you. Because the hamstrings are integral for so many daily movements, a tweak or injury can nag you for a long time.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Weak Hamstrings and Back Pain</p></h4>
Understand that back pain is often a result of weak hamstrings that are overworked or over-lengthened. The back of your thighs are being forced to do a job better suited for the glutes or hips. As a result, they become weak and tight. They also put other muscles in a compromised position.
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Strength and flexibility in the back of your thigh are essential to maintaining a neutral spine position<sup>1</sup>. This is why many doctors recommend you stretch your hamstrings if you’re experiencing lower back pain.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Should You Stretch Your Hamstrings?</p></h4>
Tight hamstrings mean you should stretch them—right? Maybe, but be careful. The tightness you are experiencing might not be due to a tight muscle belly (the muscle belly is the ‘meaty’ or middle part of your thigh, not the tendon where it attaches to the bone). Stretching may alleviate the tension you are experiencing, but don’t be shocked if it doesn’t solve your tight hamstrings (or <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/two-exercises-to-fix-back-pain/">**back pain**</a>) long-term.
Often, tight hamstrings are the result of an over-lengthened muscle in a compromised position. The ‘tightness’ you’re experiencing might be due to your weak butt muscles or poor posture.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Can You Overstretch Your Hamstrings?</p></h4>
Stretching can alleviate sore or achy feelings in your hamstrings, but too much might hurt you. If you’re dealing with an over-lengthened muscle, too much stretching is bad. The hamstrings are already longer than they should be (to counteract weak glutes or other imbalances). Stretching can actually make this worse<sup>2</sup>.
Believe it or not, sometimes the trick to fixing hamstring pain is to focus on the opposing muscle group. Your hamstrings’ opposing muscle group is the quadriceps muscle, located in the front of the thigh. Stretching or strengthening other parts of your lower body can actually improve your hamstring health and eliminate pain.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What Is the Best Exercise for Hamstrings?</p></h4>
Healthy hamstrings are flexible and strong. Gym-goers might insist that the deadlift (a full-body resistance workout performed with a barbell or kettlebells) is the ‘king’ of hamstring workouts. But the truth is that you can develop strong and flexible hamstrings without any weights.
Good hamstring workouts put force on the back of your thighs while forcing you to maintain a neutral spine. Most hamstring workouts naturally incorporate the glute muscles, too.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">The 3 Best Hamstring Workouts</p></h4>
We love these three hamstring workouts because you can get stronger from the comfort of your living room-no weights required. Plus, they naturally progress based on experience and fitness level. If you are a beginner, start with the drinking bird and work your way up.
And don’t forget to try the workout challenge for each hamstring workout!
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<h5><p style="color: #000000">1. Drinking Birds</p></h5>
Drinking birds improve posture, strengthen your core, and make your hamstrings work hard!
Start by placing feet shoulder width apart. Place your hands behind your head (or as close as you can them). Place 90 percent of your body weight in the heels. Think about it this way: the back of your body gets stronger when the back of your foot holds your weight.
Start by kicking your butt back. Maintain a flat back throughout-remember, you’re trying to improve posture here, too. Soon you’ll feel your glutes get tight alongside a gentle tug in your hamstrings. Pause there.
To return to the starting position, keep driving through the heels and squeeze your glute muscles.
For an extra challenge, really squeeze your butt and hips at the top. It’s harder, but <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERTKmxgXz-4&feature=youtu.be">**activates your glutes**</a> which improves your lower body, upper body, and core.
At timestamp 3:27 in this video, Coach Tyler breaks down the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZjFDJI4B4l16uujibduMFA/videos">**drinking bird’s different progressions**</a>.
**Workout Challenge:** three sets of twenty reps, rest one to two minutes between sets. Do this workout three to four times this week!
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<h5><p style="color: #000000">2. One-Leg High Knees</p></h5>
Building off the drinking bird, save the one-leg high knees for intermediate hamstring workouts. Done properly, you’ll also work your glutes, calves, hips, and core muscles.
To start, plant one foot firmly on the ground and squeeze the ground with your toes. Firmly planting the foot will help activate your glutes and keep your balance. Again, most of the weight should be in the heel.
Lift your opposite (non-planted) foot off the ground. Start by leaning forward and bringing that foot back without touching the ground. Now, bring your leg through to the front side and raise your knee as high as it can go (waist height is good to start). Keep a tight upper body with good posture throughout. Keep your hands on your hips so you stay facing forward.
**Workout Challenge:** three sets of ten reps on each leg (alternate every five or do all ten at once). Rest one to two minutes between sets. Do this workout three to four times this week!
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<h5><p style="color: #000000">3. One-Leg Drinking Bird</p></h5>
The final hamstring workout progression is the one-leg drinking bird. If you’ve been working out for a while and feel confident about your strength and fitness, give it a shot. Otherwise work up to it!
Grip the floor with your foot and squeeze your glutes and quads, keeping your weight in the heels. Straighten the opposite leg and bring it behind you. Lean forward just like with the one-leg high knees. In this position, you will feel your hip muscles turn on. When you activate the hips and drive through the heels, your hamstrings and glutes do all the work.
Think about ‘pouring the water’ from bowl, then bring your straightened leg back to a stand. There are progressions within this movement itself, too—<a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/3-low-impact-exercises-for-bad-knees/">**use a chair**</a> or just practice balancing to start.
**Workout Challenge:** three sets of ten reps on each leg (alternate every five or do all ten at once). The slower you do these the more difficult they get. Rest one to two minutes between sets. Do this workout three to four times this week!
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Wrapping Up</p></h4>
The best hamstring workouts will strengthen and increase the flexibility in the back of your thighs. Adding hamstring workouts to your routine improves posture, keeps your knees and hips healthy, and allows you to do many daily tasks.
Simple at-home workouts like the drinking bird or one-leg high knees are great for developing hamstring strength and flexibility without weights. You can find plenty <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/">**more workouts**</a> on the exercise section of our blog.
Combined with <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/what-is-functional-training-and-can-it-benefit-you/">**good nutrition**</a>, the right workouts will help you transform your body and get healthy. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/">**Warrior Made**</a> is here to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Resources</p></h5>
1. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/spine-anatomy/back-muscles-and-low-back-pain">Back Muscles and Low Back Pain</a>
2. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a20809265/10-tips-to-relieve-hamstring-tightness/">10 Tips to Relieve Hamstring Tightness</a>
3. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005">What are the risks of sitting too much?</a>