Some people associate tight hamstrings with not being able to touch their toes. To others, it might mean that the muscle constantly holds tension, stopping them from reaching a full range of motion when they kick up their leg. But more often, the term “tight hamstrings” refers to something a little different than a lack of flexibility—and it has a lot to do with how much time we spend in a seat.

What does it even mean to have “tight” hamstrings?

The word “tight” typically refers to a muscle that’s constantly contracted (or engaged) and lives in that shortened state. But that’s not often the problem for people’s hamstrings. If you carry tension in the back of your thighs, it’s likely from over-lengthening the hamstring, says Emmi Aguillard, DPT, a physical therapist at Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City. “Think of it like a rubber band that is stretched too far. A lot of us who spend a ton of time sitting during our 9-to-5 job develop tension in the hip flexors that pull the pelvis forward, locking our body in an anterior pelvic tilt or super-arched back,” she explains. “This creates a lengthening on the backside of the hips, putting tension on the hamstring.”

So, while you might think you need to stretch the hamstring to counteract that tight feeling, that might not your best bet, considering it’s already over-stretched.

What causes tight hamstrings and what are the symptoms?

As mentioned, if you spend most of your day with your booty in a chair, you increase the risk of that stiff feeling in the hamstrings, says Aguillard. Same goes if you’re big into running, dancing, or even yoga.

Core instability or weakness could also lead to discomfort in the legs. “If the body isn’t getting enough support and control from these other muscle groups, the brain feels unstable and responds by tightening up a muscle with which it has a strong neurological connection—oftentimes that’s the hamstrings,” says Aguillard. “All the stretching in the world won’t change this, but I think you’d be surprised with how much you might start to feel a change after working on some core or glute stability.”

In addition to inactivity and weakness, some people might also feel tight hamstrings if they have sciatica (or pain in the sciatic nerve, which runs from the low back down the leg), low back pain, or hip or knee pain, says Aguillard.

It goes without saying (but doing it anyways) that if you feel pain, pulling or tearing in any muscle, you should consult a doctor, stat. But to make the back of your legs feel better from everyday use of overtraining or use, try these tips to relieve tight hamstrings below.

1. Start With A Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring Stretch

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To get a good, safe stretch through the hamstring, Alicia Ferriere, DPT, also a physical therapist at Finish Line Physical Therapy, recommends doing one leg at a time and working in multiple planes of motion. “The hamstring doesn’t just run up and down—the muscle fibers run at slight diagonals, so it’s important to adjust your stretching accordingly,” she says.

How to: Start by standing or kneeling on your left leg and stretch your right foot out in front of you. Press your right heel into the ground to activate the hamstring. Then reach forward and down. After a few-second hold, reach to the right and then to the left. When you’re done with all three, switch sides.


2. Massage Your Hamstrings On The Reg

“The key here is to go slow,” says Ferriere. “You want to allow the muscle to relax around the compression and then follow it up with some light muscle contraction to further generate blood flow.” Simply engaging through the hamstring should do the trick. As for how to massage ‘em out, try a small ball like one you use in tennis or lacrosse (the harder it is, the more intense the pressure) or a foam roller.

How to: Sit down and place the ball or foam roller under your upper thigh. Start by bending and extending the knee a few times, then rotate the hip and bend and extend the knee on both a slight inward and outward angle. Finally, gently roll back and forth and side to side on the ball. Feel free to spend more time on the spots that feel extra tight for an oh-so-good release.

Check out this video to see the movement in action.



3. Start Strength Training

Woman doing barbell lunges during workout

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Before you jump right into stretching out your hamstrings or even foam rolling, Ferriere suggests loading the muscle tissue with some strength exercises. “Generating muscle contraction helps change the hydration and mobility of the muscle tissue, which can help alleviate that feeling of tightness,” she says. Keep reading for the best hamstring strength moves to mix into your fitness routine.


4. Glute Bridge

How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor 12 to 16 inches from your butt. Brace your core, then press into your heels and squeeze your glutes to raise your hips toward the ceiling. Hold the position for two seconds before lowering to start. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps.


5. Single-Leg Glute Bridge

How to: Lie on your back with your arms out to the side, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Keeping your thighs aligned, straighten one leg so that your toes point up. Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips evenly off the floor, then lower. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps on each side.


6. Dumbbell Donkey Kick

How to: Get on all fours on top of your mat. Place a dumbbell at the crease of your knee. Keep your right knee bent at 90 degrees as you lift your leg into the air until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knee, your right toe kicking toward the ceiling. Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps on each side.


7. Reverse Plank

How to: Sit on your mat and place your hands on the ground, underneath your shoulders. Press into your hands, stretch your legs out straight, and lift your hips into the air. Your body should form a straight line from feet to torso. Keep your hips raised for three seconds, then lower back to the ground. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps.


8. Reverse Plank With Toe Tap

How to: Sit on your mat and place your hands on the ground, underneath your shoulders. Press into your hands, stretch your legs out straight, and lift your hips into the air. Your body should form a straight line from feet to torso. Keep your hips raised while you bend your right knee, and tap your right toes on the ground. Extend your right leg back to the starting position, and repeat on the left side. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps.


9. Glute Bridge March

How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Rest your arms on the floor, palms up, at shoulder level. Raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Brace your abs and lift your right knee toward your chest. Pause, then lower your right foot. Repeat with the other leg. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps.


10. Glute Bridge Tiptoe Walk

How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Rest your arms on the floor, palms up, at shoulder level. Raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Brace your abs, bend your right knee, and press your toes into the ground below your butt. Bring the left toes to the same point. Then extend your right leg back to the starting point, followed by your left. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps.


11. Crabwalk

How to: Sit with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Position your palms down next to either side of your butt. Push your hands and feet into the floor and raise your torso and thighs a few inches so your butt is hovering above the ground. Take a step forward, simultaneously moving your right hand and left foot. Repeat with your left hand and right foot. That’s one rep. Continue alternating without allowing your butt to drop. Complete 15 reps.


12. Lying Hamstring Curl

How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on top of a towel. Brace your core, then press into your heels and squeeze your glutes to raise your hips toward the ceiling. Hold the position as you extend your legs until they’re completely straight. Then, engage your hamstrings, bend your knees, and bring your feet toward your butt. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps.


13. Kick Back With Resistance Band

How to: While standing, loop a resistance band around your left foot, and hold the other end in both hands. Hinge your upper body forward slightly. Press your right leg backward at a diagonal, until it’s completely extended. Return to start. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps on each side.


14. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

How to: Hold two dumbbells in your hands, stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Position the dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms facing your body. Keeping your knees slightly bent, press your hips back as you bend at the waist and lower the weights toward the floor. Squeeze your glutes to return to standing. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps.


15. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

How to: Hold two dumbbells in your hands, stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Position the dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms facing your body. Keeping your knees slightly bent, extend your right leg back as you bend at the waist and lower the weights toward the floor. Squeeze your glutes to return to standing. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps on each side.


16. Dumbbell Good Morning

How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold two dumbbells in your hands, bend your arms, and place them behind your shoulders. Keeping your knees slightly bent and your torso straight, slowly bend from your hips until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Hold for a moment, then return to start. That’s one rep. Complete 15 reps.


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