Stretch Your Hamstrings
A few weeks ago, I posted a blog on one of my favorite yoga poses for stretching the quadriceps muscles. The quads are four big muscles that combine to form the anterior compartment of your thigh. They’re the ones that most often get sore when you’ve hiked, biked or run a little more vigorously than usual.
But the quads are not the only muscles in the legs that sometimes require some TLC after summertime exercise. The hamstrings, a much slimmer set of three muscles, run along the back of your femur bones. When they contract, they extend your leg (move it backwards from the hip joint). If your hamstrings are short, they can also keep you from touching your toes. Chronically contracted hamstrings can also contribute low back pain.
Standing or sitting forward bends are the usual remedy for this. But without proper guidance as to how to modify for tight hamstrings, these poses can sometimes cause low back issues. I usually suggest that students with chronically tight hamstrings or hamstrings that are tired from heavy exercise try a yoga pose that enables your back to stay in a neutral position. The Sanskrit term for the pose is Supta Padanghustasana, but most people call it “Lying Down Leg Stretch.”
You’ll need a strap or belt. You don’t really need a yoga mat for this, but you can place a yoga mat or blanket underneath the length of your body just to make the pose more comfortable.
Lie on the floor with your feet pressing into a wall. Bend your right knee into your chest then place your strap around the arch of your foot. Now extend your leg up toward the ceiling, giving yourself enough slack in your strap that your knee can stay straight. At the same time, keep your left leg completely grounded with your foot extending into the wall. This will help keep your spine in a neutral position.
Don’t worry if your leg isn’t straight up. Find the angle that allows you to feel a gentle stretch in your hamstrings. If you force your leg too close to you, sometimes the stretch will be too much for your leg and will actually cause your body to resist more, so take it easy!
Relax your abdomen and breathe deeply, as if you are sending your inhalation out from the abdomen and into the back of your thigh. Take five to 10 deep breaths. Lower your leg to the floor and relax. Check in with your legs. It’s possible that the right leg might feel longer than the left. Sometimes when I observe my students, I can actually see a leg-length difference!
Now repeat this same process with your left leg. Again, lie and relax for a few breaths after your second side. Feel free to repeat on both sides if you like.
Next month, I’ll suggest a pose that will help you release your abductors and hip rotators, muscles that often tighten from biking and other summertime activities.
Meanwhile, feel free to comment on your experience with this hamstring stretch!