These poses from yoga teacher and strength trainer Hannah Barrett will help you move easier through your flows as well as your deadlifts.
Are you someone who shivers at the thought of having to touch your toes, or avoids yoga sessions at all costs out of embarrassment for not being able to forward fold? You can blame it on being too tall to reach down there, or complain that you’re just naturally un-bendy, but the real reason you’re struggling is probably much more easily solvable: your hamstrings are tight.
Tight hamstrings have more serious repercussions than struggling to pick things up though: “We’re all connected, from our feet all the way up to the top of our head,” explains Hannah Barrett. “Tight hamstrings may also result in a sore back and pain in the knees, particularly the backs of the knees. It can also lead to an increased risk of them tearing during sports and it can affect your speed and agility as you won’t have good enough mobility to push yourself off the floor.”
Sticking to a good stretch routine can fix all of that. But before you dive into hours of yoga practice, you also need to think about strengthening the muscle. “The issue a lot of yogis have is that we are always stretching. For example, almost every practice will feature a forward fold. Over stretching without strengthening the hamstring muscles may result in injury.”
Making sure to keep hamstring-focused moves in your leg day (think deadlifts, hamstring curls and glute bridges), add in these stretches, recommended by Hannah and demonstrated by colleague Finola Burrell, for more mobility and flexibility. You’ll be showing off your toe touches in no time.
Best hamstring stretches: lying leg raise
Lying on your back with one leg in the air, pull your leg towards the chest as far as it will go. In this stretch, you can add a resistance band, towel or belt if you can’t reach your leg or to pull further into it.
Best hamstring stretches: PNF lying leg raise
PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. Don’t worry, you don’t need to remember that, but just know that it’s a technique that improves range of motion by contracting and relaxing the muscle when stretching at its limit.
In the same position as above, push the stretch as far as you can (without injuring yourself!). Then push back into the band, towel or belt but holding tight so as to not move the position of the leg. Contracting the muscle for up to six seconds and release. You might find you can pull further into the stretch. Hold that for 30 seconds, then contract again. Repeat twice.
Best hamstring stretch: kneeling stretch
Kneeling on the floor, put one foot out in front of you. Flex the foot so the toes are pointing towards the sky, and start folding forward towards your knee until you feel the stretch. This will work the distal hamstring, near the pelvis. To work slightly lower, into the proximal hamstring, slightly bend the knee of the extended leg.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).