When you think of places that hurt after a long day of training, hamstrings aren’t always the first to come to mind, but you should be aware of how tight hamstrings can affect the rest of your body. Having tight hamstrings can greatly contribute to knee and lower back pain as well as limit hip mobility, which can lead to discomfort and an increased risk of injury.
Visualize your hamstrings as rubber bands that run between the hip and the knee, which end up pulling and putting tension on the knees, hips, back, and rest of your body when they are overly tight. When you work to loosen the hamstrings, the effects can be felt widespread throughout the body and substantially improve your overall mobility.
For jiu-jitsu, having flexible hamstrings will help you to better retain guard, ease post-training pain, and even improve your posture on and off the mat. Get started with these two poses:
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
This may seem very straight forward, but trust me, touching your toes is actually important.
- Begin by standing upright, with your feet hip distance apart with a strong posture. Engage your core & lift through the pelvis while you draw your shoulders back to help create a straight spine.
- Bring your fingertips to your hip crease (where your thigh connects to your pelvis), palms against the hip bones
- Take a bend in the knees as you begin to hinge at the hips, folding over your hands, making sure to be only moving from the hips and not the back. Your back should be staying as straight as possible. You can draw your shoulders back to help you keep posture.
- Once you are comfortably able to lay your stomach on your thighs, you can release the hands to the floor and let your head hang forward.
- From here you can slowly begin to straighten the legs, keeping your back flat and lifting the pelvis and letting the crown of your head draw towards the floor.
- Only go as far as feels good. You should experience discomfort but not pain. Over time, you will be able to extend further and further.
If this pose is easy for you, try walking your hands behind your feet with your legs fully extended or try other variations of this pose by grabbing the big toes with your index and middle fingers and folding deeper, or place the hands under the feet palm up with your toes at the wrist crease.
Reaching behind your legs
Grabbing your big toes
Hands under feet
Common mistakes to avoid:
- Be aware of avoiding hyperextension. Lift through the kneecaps instead of locking them out.
- Make sure not to round the upper back and shoulders. If you find yourself rounding, just roll your shoulders up and back to realign your posture.
Half Split or Runners Stretch (Ardha Hanumanasana)
This pose reduces risk of injury to your lower back & hamstrings while improving your mobility through stretching the hamstrings, thighs, lower back, and groin.
- You can begin by stepping back from the forward fold position above or simply by starting in a lowered lunge with one knee up and one knee down. Note: feel free to put a pillow or folded blanket under the grounded knee if this position causes discomfort for your knees.
- Bringing your hands down to frame your front foot, slowly begin to draw your hips back and down while straightening your front leg out, bending your grounded knee. Make sure to keep your hips squared forward.
- From here, ground the heel on your front foot and flex your toes toward your face to deepen the stretch.
- If this either feels too easy or even slightly awkward, slowly move your front foot further forward until you find your sweet spot where it feels challenging without straining.
- Make sure to not round your spine toward your legs, and instead keep a strong flat back while reaching your chest forwards towards your toes. Note: If you are having trouble reaching your hands to the ground while keeping your spine straight, you can use blocks under your hands to help.
- If you would like to create some movement here, you can gently rock forwards and back from a crescent lunge (front leg bent, back leg lengthened) to this runner’s lunge.
If this is feeling pretty good, you can try to walk your hands either farther forward or back to play around with some different angles. You can also continue inching your feet farther apart eventually making your way to full split.
Common mistakes to avoid:
- Be aware of avoiding hyper-extension. Lift through the kneecaps instead of locking them out.
- Make sure not to round your upper back and shoulders. If you find yourself rounding, just roll the shoulders up & back to realign your posture.
- Make sure to square your hips forward and keep them in line
Always listen to your body first. Be aware of previous injuries and of your own limitations when attempting any stretches or movements. Discomfort is normal, but back off if you feel pain. Just as with jiu-jitsu, yoga is a different experience for everyone. Be sure to be mindful with your movements and take care of yourself.
Disclaimer: This article is for entertainment purposes only and does not replace the guidance of a medical expert or the in-person coaching of an expert instructor. Talk to your physician before beginning any new activities.