But the good news is that a bunch of research has shown that stretching can improve hamstring flexibility. And if you practice yoga or are an aspiring yogi, you’ll love to hear that a 2020 study found that yoga can improve hamstring flexibility and improve function in everyday activities and athletic performance.
Sounds fab. So what yoga poses are the best of the best for stretching out those hamstrings? Here are our top 10 faves.
Best yoga hamstring stretches
We’re going to take a look at the following athlete-approved poses, which’ll get you looser than your sh*tty jeans after sitting down for 20 minutes:
- Downward-Facing Dog Pose
- Reclined Big Toe Pose
- Triangle Pose
- Standing Forward fold
- Wide-legged Forward Fold
- Pyramid Pose
- Side Lunge
- Half Split Pose
- Sleeping Vishnu Pose
- Heron Pose
Best yoga hamstring stretches for beginners
1. Downward-Facing Dog
- Start by getting into a high plank (like you’re about to do a push-up).
- Shift your weight toward your feet, lifting dat a$$ into the air.
- Keep your neck aligned with your spine.
- Don’t worry if your hams are too tight to fully straighten your legs— a bit of bend is okay for now.
- Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths, then gently return to the floor.
2. Reclined Big Toe Pose
Y’know when you’re watching the Olympics, and the sprinters are warming up with those big, slightly silly-looking kicks before they get into the blocks? That’s essentially what you’re doing here, except you’re going to be lying down, and looking heckin’ cool. Awesome for hamstrings, calves, and your lower back.
- Lie on your back.
- Bring your knee up toward your chest, and give it a nice hug.
- Straighten your leg up toward the ceiling, holding the back of your thigh to deepen the stretch. (You can also grab a yoga strap or a belt and hook it around the bottom of your foot.)
- Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths.
- Bend your knee so your leg comes back down to your chest. Swap legs, and do the same again.
3. Triangle Pose
Another great pose for beginners, this pose is deceptively awesome. It’s proof that you can get a good stretch on your hamstrings, groin, and hips, while also loosening up your shoulders — all without folding yourself into a pretzel.
- Stand up, and place your feet about shoulder-width apart, or slightly wider.
- Keep your left toes facing the same direction as your body, and turn your right leg outward from the hip to make a right triangle out of your legs (ugh, geometry).
- Lift your arms into a T position.
- Staying tall in your spine, hinge at your waist, reaching your right hand in the same direction as your right foot as if you were reaching across a table.
- Once you can’t reach any further, tilt your torso so that your left hand reaches to the ceiling and your right hand reaches down. You can place your right hand on your shin, ankle, a block, or the floor.
- Both shoulders, and both hands should now be in a straight vertical line over your right ankle. Keep your chest and belly open to the long side of your mat (if you’re using one).
- If it feels good, turn your head to look up at your left hand.
- Hold for 5-10 breaths, slowly lift out of the pose, and repeat on the other side.
4. Standing Forward Fold
This pose does exactly what the name suggests — you’re basically folding yourself in half. And while that might sound slightly terrifying, there’s no need to worry — this is a beginner-friendly pose that’ll stretch your hamstrings and calves.
- Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides.
- In one, glorious move, bend over at your hips until you’re placing your palms on your shins, ankles, or the floor.
- You can bend your knees a little bit, but try to keep them as straight as you can. Your hamstrings will thank you!
- Let your head hang down and relax, whilst keeping your legs nice and long.
- You can hold the pose for up to a minute. Bring yourself back up earlier if you start to feel any sharp pain.
5. Wide-legged Forward Fold
We’re folding over again… except we’re taking it up a notch. Be prepared to headbutt the floor, so doing this on a yoga mat or carpeted area is definitely a smart move.
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart with your toes facing forward — as far as you can comfortably go.
- Slowly start folding yourself over. No need to rush.
- Place your hands on the floor. Slowly start walking them back until they’re in line with your feet.
- The goal is to get the top of your head to touch the ground without moving your lower body.
- Look at the upside-down world behind you. Fun, isn’t it?
- Hold the pose for a minute, if you can. Bring yourself out of it by placing your hands back on the ground, and slowly unfolding yourself back to upright.
6. Pyramid Pose
- Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
- Step back with your right foot so that there are about 12 inches of space between your left heel and right toes. (You can step further back if you’d like — play around to see what gives you the best stretch.)
- Keeping your left leg nice and straight, bend at your hips so that you fold over your leg. You can keep your hands on your hips, at heart’s center, or wrap them behind your back.
- Hold for five breaths before standing again. Repeat on the other side.
7. Side Lunge
This one is basically a Spiderman pose (no, not the upside-down kiss — sorry). Great for hamstrings (obvi), but also your hips and back, and it’s particularly nifty if you’re someone who sits at a desk for long periods of time.
- Start with your feet wider than hip-width apart with your toes facing forward.
- Bend your left leg — as if you’re doing a half-squat — while keeping your right leg straight. (Remember to keep your left knee over your left ankle.) Keep going until your hands can touch the ground. You are now Classic Spiderman.
- You’ll find yourself leaning over to the left, which is fine. Keep pushing into the ground with your feet so you’re keeping your body lifted. If you sink too much, you’ll probably land on your butt (if this happens, laugh it off and try again, Spidey!).
- Hold the pose for 5 breaths.
- Use your hands to push yourself up to your starting position, then bend your right leg, and do the same again.
8. Half Split Pose
This one gets those hamstrings, hips, and lower back working. Nice and straightforward, and makes you look like a pro athlete without any of the work (and sadly, without any of the wages, cry).
- Start off on your hands and knees.
- Step your right foot forward between your hands to come into a knee-down lunge, keeping your left knee on the floor.
- Bring your hands up to your hips and find your balance.
- Shift your hips back and begin to straighten your right leg. You may need to slide your left leg back a little to keep things feeling just right. Your hips should stay over your left knee.
- Fold yourself forward as far as is comfortable. Keep your hands on your hips or place them on blocks or the floor on either side of your right shin/ankle/foot. Do you.
- Hold the pose for 5 breaths.
- Release, and repeat on the other side.
Advanced yoga hamstring stretches
The last two poses might take a little time to work up to, plus an instructor to guide you through them. But if you already have some yoga experience, you might be able to dive right into ’em.
9. Sleeping Vishnu Pose
You might be thinking: “Sleeping? I can do that!”
Well, it’s not quite that straightforward, as you’ll need to keep yourself pretty balanced in order to get the most out of a pose that’ll work your hamstring, thighs, and calves. But you’ll look super chill doing it.
- Lie on your back.
- Roll onto your right side, propping your head up with your right arm and hand. This is where the looking chill part comes in.
- Bring your left leg straight up over your right leg (you can bend it if you need to), and grab hold of your toes with your left hand.
- Hold for 5 breaths. Release your toe, and bring your leg back down.
- Turn on your other side, and repeat.
10. Heron Pose
Ahh, the majestic heron. While you might not look quite as regal as our avian friends when you’re doing this pose, you’ll be working your hamstrings, calves, and quads. And do herons get that while they’re fishing? No, they do not, so jump on this and feel superior.
- Sit on the floor with your legs stretched straight out in front of you.
- Bend your left knee and pull your left leg back, almost like you’re going to sit on top of it (but don’t: that’s important. You want to have your foot resting alongside your thigh). If this isn’t comfortable, you might want to sit on a yoga block to make it happen.
- Bend your right knee and bring it toward you, keeping the bottom of your foot on the ground.
- Hold your right foot, lean back slightly, and extend your right leg out in front of you.
- Keep your leg as straight as you can, and hold for five breaths.
- Repeat with your left leg.
What causes tight hamstrings?
You’re most likely to encounter hamstring probs if you do fast-paced sports which involve a lot of running or kicking, such as football, soccer, or track.
If you watch professional soccer, it can seem like at least one player per match pulls up with a tight hamstring, such is the pressure of all that sprinting and kicking. But you can also get tight hamstrings from moving too slowly, such as if you sit at a desk all day. Yup, it feels like we just can’t win.
But that tight feeling is caused by the hamstring itself shortening — and that’s why stretching is so important. Stretching those ‘strings helps to return them back toward their proper length, meaning that you can resume walking or running as you did before.
Plus, doing stretching exercises every day helps to prevent the hamstrings from shortening in the first place. And when the symptoms of tight hamstrings include:
- a snapping feeling
… it’s definitely something you want to avoid if you can.
When to see a doc
A 2019 study found that instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (two common physical therapy methods for improving flexibility) are more effective at improving hamstring flexibility than static stretching alone.
So if you’re an athlete (or just love to exercise) and you’ve got super tight hammies, you might want to hit up a health professional to see if physical therapy is the move for you. A PT can help create a plan to regain your flexibility and prevent injury.
Tight hamstrings can be a nightmare for anyone who does sports, or even if you’re just innocently sitting at your desk. But consistent stretching and yoga can be an effective way to get that flexibility right back.
There are a number of really simple poses that won’t have you folding yourself up into knots, which can really help out those hams — and even better, they’ll give your calves, hips, and back a good stretch too.
Give them a try, and you’ll be back to being the sports superstar you are in no time.