Many of us spend long hours working desk jobs and end up with shortened hamstring muscles as a result. The movements listed below, as part of the Element Training program, will help you develop well-toned, flexible and strong rear thighs and will relieve back pain in the process. For more muscle groups, click on the figure at left.
Exercises for Strength
Lay on your stomach on a bed, with your knees just over the edge. Cross your ankles, and contract the bottom leg's hamstring to bend at the knee as you add resistance with the other foot. Take care to contract the hamstring fully. Pair this with the cyclist’s exercise for a good upper leg workout.
Weight one foot with ankle weights, or with dumbell plates tied to a belt or strap. Place a chair with its back against a wall, and step your non-weighted foot onto the front edge of the chair. Stand up on the chair on the non-weighted foot, anchor the weighted leg's knee behind the other knee, and bend the weighted one up to lift the weight. You can also free your knee and lift the weight straight up, thus sharing the work with the hip flexors.
Stretches for Flexibility
This essential stretch goes from painful to enjoyable with practice. Sit with your legs extended forward and bend from the lower back to reach your hands toward your toes. If your hamstrings are flexible you can hook two fingers around your big toes and move your elbows towards the floor, but it's more important to keep your lower back straight than to reach farther forward. This stretch can be done standing as well.
Head to Knee Pose
Sit with legs extended forward, and bring the bottom of one foot to touch the opposite inner thigh. Reach both hands straight up to extend your spine, then reach forward towards your extended foot, keeping your hips square throughout.
Inverted Hamstring Stretches
Begin by laying on your back with legs extended upward. (One) Take hold of your toes, or the balls of your feet, with your hands. Straighten your legs fully and gently pull them downward, keeping your lower back on the floor as much as possible. (Two) Allow your knees to bend a little as you bring them down to touch your chest. Deepen the stretch by pushing your lower back towards the floor as you gently pull your feet towards your head. (Three) Gently hold the stretch as you move your legs apart a little, then release the stretch a little, straighten your legs, and pull them fully apart and down with your arms. (Four) Keeping your knees apart, bring your feet together in the center and interlace your fingers around the outsides of them. Pull your feet down toward your chest, and you've entered the Dead Bug Pose. This can also be done with feet apart, but I wouldn't bend your knees past 90°. Following this you can proceed to the inverted glute stretches.
Countertop Hamstring Stretch
A simple and very effective hamstring stretch that can be done while you brush your teeth. Stand facing a sturdy shelf, chair or countertop, the optimal height of which increases with your flexibility. Place your heel on the furniture and bend forward over your extended leg. For an interesting variation, follow this stretch by unbending your torso and turning your hips 90° to move the stretch to your inner thigh, then turning your hips another 90° to face backward and move the stretch to your hip flexors.
Hamstring Stretch from Hero Pose
Assume the hero pose and extend one leg forward, keeping your hips level and balanced. Lean forward over the extended leg and touch your toes if it's comfortable to do so. A version of this can also be done from a knee-standing position with the extended leg's heel on the floor.