See Ways to Strengthen and Loosen up Those Hammies.
By taking the time to include a hamstring exercise or two into your fitness plan, you can build a set of sexy and toned legs to show off, and keep your hips and legs loose at the same time.
When the leg muscles and hip joints get to tight, the the muscle balance through the entire body gets thrown out of whack and all kinds of problems can develop like back pain, hip pain and posture issues.
By keeping these muscles loose you will not only reduce irritable pain and tightness, studies show that greater flexibility can help your cardiovascular system by improving circulation and increasing blood flow.
Lying Hamstring Stretch - Lie flat on your back and raise your right leg as high as possible while holding your lower thigh muscle behind the knee with both hands. To maximize the stretch, you can put a towel or some type of strap across the middle of your foot and pull the strap toward you until you feel the extra tension. Repeat with the other foot.
Seated Hamstring Stretch - Sit on the floor with your left leg tucked under your butt and your right leg extended forward. Sit up tall with your back straight and lean forward until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg.
Use your right hand to touch the tip of your toe and try to lean forward a little more to deepen the stretch. Hold it for 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
Scissor Stretch - Start out by standing with your feet together, step one foot about two feet behind you and slowly bend forward. Make sure to keep your back and both legs straight as you bend down. Hold it as low as you can for 30 seconds and repeat with the other foot.
Lying Glute and Hamstring Stretch - Start out lying on the floor with your knees bent and your right leg crossed over your left thigh. Grab your right leg at the knee and slowly pull it toward your chest. Hold it for 15-20 seconds to really stretch it out and then return to your starting position. Switch legs and repeat the exercise.
It's a good idea to do these stretches at the end of your workout when your leg muscles are warm.
Hamstring Leg Curls
A great isolation hamstring exercise that strengthens the legs as well as the knee flexors. if you have one hamstring stronger than the other, it will clearly show with this exercise.
Start by sitting on the leg curl machine and adjust the seat so that you are sitting straight up with your back supported. Have the padded leg lever directly under your ankles and the top pad resting, and barely touching your thighs.
Holding the support handles, bend your knees and press (curl) your lower calves down and back towards your butt.
Once you curl your legs all the way back, slowly return back to your starting position and repeat your reps.
Try and do 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
Because of the padded leg lever, it's easy to let one leg do more work than the other. Being aware of this, you can make sure both legs do an equal amount of work by using one leg at a time and avoid any muscle imbalance.
Stiff Legged Deadlift
The deadlift is a popular hamstring exercise that can quickly have your legs feeling stronger and more flexible. The deadlift can be done with or without weights.
Begin in a standing position with feet hip-width apart and arms resting at your sides.
Slowly bend forward from your hips with your back straight letting your fingertips hang toward your toes.
Hold this pose momentarily then slowly return to your starting position.
Make an effort to let your glutes and hamstrings do the work as you are returning to the starting position.
Dumbbell Forward Lunge
This is a great hamstring exercise that also effectively works the front quad muscles and also your core area as you maintain stability and good balance.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your left foot, lowering your right foot to a 90-degree angle as pictured.
Step back to the starting position and repeat the exercise with your other foot stepping forward first.
The main priority is having good balance. When you get comfortable with lunges and you want to make it more challenging, include a couple of free weights like dumbbells.
This hamstring exercise will also strengthen your gluteus (butt) muscles.
Lie on the floor with your hands by your sides, your knees bent, and a dumbbell or weighted plate resting on your lower abs.
Pull your feet back under your knees as far as possible and raise your hips off of the ground while tightening your ab and glute muscles.
You want to hold your body in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees for 15-30 seconds.
You don't have to add a weight to the bridge exercise but it will create more of a challenge and work your core muscles a little more.
Unwind with Yoga
Almost every yoga pose requires flexibility because of all the stretching that is done. But you don't need to be "springy" when you first get started. Doing yoga on a regular basis is a great way to gradually improve your flexibility and there are fantastic yoga postures that focus on specifc target areas like the hamstrings.
Poses like the downward facing dog and the triangle yoga pose are a couple that will give you a good stretch. By holding poses like these for a few minutes, you more and more of the hips and hamstring muscles opening up.
I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or if you have any ideas you want to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum.