Hamstring strengthening exercises help reduce leg pain. Weak, pulled, torn, stiff, and inflamed hamstrings (tendinopathy) are common issues due to overuse, injury, or disuse. Along with rest and medications, you can get relief by doing physical therapy. Hamstring rehabilitation exercises help make the muscles strong and flexible. This reduces the risk of future injuries to the hamstring (1), (2). Start these exercises and stretches 4-6 weeks after the injury. Do the 10 best hamstring strengthening exercises listed below to improve mobility, reduce leg pain, walk, stand and do your daily tasks without any hindrance. Read on!
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10 Best Hamstring Strengthening Exercises
These hamstring recovery exercises are low-impact and can be done lying down or sitting. They will work not only the hamstrings but also your knees and glutes. This list also includes eccentric hamstring exercises great for hamstring rehabilitation. They help lengthen and relax the hamstring muscles.
Practice these exercises after consulting your doctor or under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.
1. Extension Lag
Extension lags help strengthen the knee and hamstring muscles. You can do them sitting on the bed.
- Sit at the edge (approximately mid-thigh) of the bed. Do not let your legs touch the floor. Place your palms on the bed.
- Extend the injured leg as much as possible.
- Your physical therapist will assist in extending your leg further. Hold for 10 seconds and relax.
- Do this 10 times for 2-3 times a day.
2. Glute Bridge
Glute bridge is an eccentric hamstring exercise that helps lengthen the hamstring muscles without causing overextension.
- Lie down on your back on a mat. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart with the knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and hands by your side.
- Push your hips up towards the ceiling. Stop when your thighs and hips are in the same line. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Keep breathing.
- Slowly bring your hips down.
- Push your hips up again before they touch the floor.
- Do 3 sets of 8 reps once or twice a day.
3. One-Legged Bridge
The one-legged bridge works on the hamstrings and glutes. You will support your injured leg on the other leg, which will help extend the hamstrings without strain.
- Lie down on your back on a mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your feet hip-width apart and hands by your sides.
- Place your injured leg on top of the other leg, as shown in the image.
- Push your hips up toward the ceiling. Stop when your hips and thighs are in the same line.
- Hold for 3-5 seconds or even more if you feel comfortable. Keep breathing.
- Slowly bring your hips down.
- Push your hips up again before they touch the floor.
- Do 3 sets of 8 reps with each leg once or twice a day.
4. Prone Hamstring Curls
You can do the prone hamstring curls while lying on your bed, sofa, or any flat surface. You will need a pillow or a rolled towel for this exercise.
- Lie down on your belly and place your face on a pillow or rolled towel.
- Slowly lift your injured leg.
- Try to bring your foot closer to your glutes.
- Pause for a second and bring your leg back down.
- Do 3 sets of 8 reps twice a day.
5. Stretch For Tight Hamstrings
A tight hamstring can limit movement and cause pain while exercising or in daily activities. This stretch helps reduce stiffness and ease movements, especially if you are a dancer or a yoga enthusiast.
- Sit at the edge of a chair.
- Place your leg with the stiff hamstring forward. Flex your foot.
- Keep the other knee flexed and the foot flat on the floor.
- Slowly bend your body from the hips. You will start to feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Hold for three seconds.
- Bring your body back to an upright position.
- You can also continue the same stretch in a standing position if you are comfortable.
6. Lying Knee Extension
The lying hamstring stretch is a great way to improve hamstring flexibility and strength. Stretch as much as you can, but do not force a full stretch.
- Lie down on your back on a mat.
- Flex your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Lift your injured leg off the floor and lock your palms at the back of your thigh. Keep your knee flexed.
- Keep breathing and slowly lift your lower leg or shin up towards the ceiling. Stretch as much as you can.
- Hold for three seconds and lower your shin.
- Do it thrice daily.
7. Prone Hamstring Curls With A Band
Resistance bands are great for strengthening the muscles. This exercise is the modified form of the hamstring curls. Do this only after you have gained considerable strength in your hamstrings.
Note: Avoid overdoing this exercise and use a light resistance band.
- Secure the resistance band to the base of a sofa or any sturdy object. Make a loop.
- Sit down comfortably on a mat on the floor and place your feet through the loop.
- Turn around and lie down on your belly.
- Bend your knee and lift your leg. Try to bring the ankle close to your hips. Do not stretch too much if it causes discomfort.
- Pause for a moment and slowly place your feet back in the extended position.
- Do 3 sets of 8 reps once a day.
8. Prone Knee Extension Hang
Prone knee extension works on your knee muscles to strengthen your hamstrings. You can perform this exercise on your bed or sofa. However, you will need the support of a licensed physical therapist to do this exercise.
- Lie on your bed or sofa on your belly. Make sure your knee cap is hanging over the edge of the bed or sofa.
- Your therapist will add weights to your ankle with doctor’s approval. You can also do this exercise without any ankle weights.
- Your physical therapist will hold your leg at a 20° or 30° angle and slowly allow it to fall to get to a fully extended position. Relax your hamstrings.
- Do this for 5 minutes thrice a day.
9. Hamstring Curl With Physio Ball
You will need a physioball to do this eccentric hamstring exercise.
- Lie on your back and place your feet on a physioball. Keep your hands on the sides and your palms flat on the floor.
- Lift your hips off the floor. This is the starting position.
- Curl in your legs to bring the physioball closer to your hips. The soles of your feet should be resting on the ball.
- Extend your right leg completely.
- Slowly roll back the physioball to the starting position and extend your left leg.
- Do this 3-5 times with each leg.
10. Hamstring Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a great way to reduce stiff hamstrings. If you have sore hamstring muscles after a workout session, use a foam roller to release the tension and prevent further damage.
- Sit on a mat and extend your legs.
- Place the foam roller below your thighs.
- Move forward and backward to massage your hamstrings with the foam roller.
- Do this for 5 minutes.
These 10 effective exercises will strengthen your hamstrings, rehabilitate them, and prevent the risk of injuries. But what can cause injuries in the first place? Let’s find out in the following section.
Common Causes of Hamstring Injuries
- Not Warming Up – Prepping the muscles before cardio or strength training is crucial. Otherwise, you run the risk of injuries, especially if you are a runner, dancer, fitness enthusiast, or athlete. So take your sweet time to warm up your muscles. Find a corner and take at least 10 minutes to warm up.
- Overtraining – Many athletes and non-athletes are guilty of overtraining, which causes more muscle tears that do not get enough time to rebuild themselves. This results in muscle fatigue, inflammation, and injury to the hamstring (3).
- Poor Posture – A drooping spine or a slouched back can affect your hamstrings because it directly connects with the way you walk and sit. Therefore, a poor lumbar posture puts you at a higher risk of a hamstring injury (3).
- Low Bone Density – Aging reduces bone density, thereby increasing the risk of falls. Women are at a higher risk than men of sudden falls (4). This can cause not only fractures but also blunt trauma to the hamstrings.
They say where there is a problem, there is prevention. Scroll down to find out how to prevent hamstring injuries.
Ways To Prevent Hamstring Injury
- Rest – If you have just had a hamstring injury, rest for at least 4-6 weeks. Hamstring tears and inflammations can become a life-long issue if you do not take enough rest and ice it in the initial days of the injury. Also, avoid overtraining.
- Warm Up – Always! Take 10 minutes to warm up your entire body. Do not just practice a few stretches and start performing a 30-60-minute workout. This will eventually make your muscles prone to injuries. Make it your golden rule to warm up even if you are late for the training.
- Improve Your Posture – This takes a lot of conscious effort and practice. Do you slouch? Sit up with your back straight. Do you walk with drooping shoulders? Roll your shoulders back, relax, and walk. You can add reminders, use notes, or even ask your close friends to remind you if you slouch or walk with drooped shoulders.
- Stay Active – You need to stay active irrespective of your age. Inactivity can lead to hamstring fatigue even after minimal daily activities. Go for short walks or indulge in brisk walking. You can also take up water exercises for a fun session.
- Hamstring strengthening exercises are the best way to make muscles flexible and strong.
- These exercises include a glute bridge, one-legged bridge, lying knee extension, and more.
- Overtraining, poor posture, not warming up are a few reasons for hamstring injuries.
- Improving posture, staying active, and warm-ups minimize the risk of an inflamed hamstring.
Hamstring overuse, sprain, or injury can lead to debilitating pain. In case you are struggling with the same, you can try any of the above-mentioned hamstring strengthening exercises to reduce leg pain. Ample amount of rest balanced with these exercises, would help you get some relief. Along with that, you should continue lighter daily activities like walking, sitting or standing without any support to improve the strength of your hamstrings. Consult with your doctor if things don’t seem to be improving over time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do squats strengthen hamstrings?
Not significantly. Squats focus on strengthening your quads instead of hamstrings. However, they may improve your hamstring flexibility.
How do you know if your hamstrings are weak?
Test your hamstring strength by bending over and touching your toes. When your toes and fingers don’t meet, your hamstrings may be tight or weak.
Is cycling good for your hamstrings?
Yes. Cycling can strengthen and stretch your hamstrings.
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- An Evidence-Based Framework for Strengthening Exercises to Prevent Hamstring Injury
- Rehabilitation and return to sport after hamstring strain injury
- Hamstring injury rehabilitation and prevention of reinjury using lengthened state eccentric training: a new concept
- Patterns of Hamstring Muscle Tears in the General Population: A Systematic Review