11 Yoga Poses to Release Tight Hamstrings

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If you spend all day sitting, chances are you’ve experienced pain or tension in your legs. Try these yoga poses to help release tight hamstrings.

The hamstrings are a group of three posterior thigh muscles, located on the back of the thigh from above the knee up to the glutes.

These muscles are responsible for extending the hip, flexing the knee, and rotating the lower leg when the knee is bent. These are the movements that work to hold us upright while we walk and run.

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So What Makes The Hamstrings So Tight?

Because the hamstrings have an abundance of built-in connective tissues, they naturally can become stiffer than other muscles. Tightened hamstrings can be hard to loosen up due to a multitude of reasons and can lead to pain in the knees, hips, and lower back. (1)

  • Sitting – Most of us spend our days sitting at a desk, driving in a car, and relaxing on the couch. When we sit, our hips and knees are stuck in a state of flexion, leading to shortened hamstrings. When we stand up, it’s not as easy for the hamstrings to lengthen back out. Stretches help reverse the damages of sitting all day.
  • Anterior Pelvic Tilt – The hamstrings work to posteriorly tilt the pelvis. If the pelvis is constantly placed in this anterior tilt, then the hamstrings are constantly stretching to try and bring it back into place.
  • Injury / Strain – Hamstring injuries are very common and usually occur from sports like sprinting and stretching. The recovery can be long and debilitating, requiring physical therapy, and once you’ve been injured, it’s easy to re-injure your hamstrings through everyday activities. (2)

It’s important to stretch your hamstrings properly. Keep the following in mind when attempting this sequence:

Check with your doctor
If you’ve suffered an injury or have chronic tight hamstrings, it is important to check with your doctor before beginning any type of stretching program like yoga.

Warm the muscles before you stretch
Go for a 5-10-minute walk before beginning these yoga stretches.

Don’t lock out your knees
It is common for people to lock their knees in an attempt to stretch the hamstrings, but this is counterproductive and can lead to injury. You should always have a slight bend in the knees to protect them from hyperextension and placing strain on the hamstrings and lower back.

Engage your quadriceps
Keeping a slight engagement through your quadriceps (the fronts of your thighs) will protect your knees from hyperextending and help increase the stretch through your hamstrings.

Listen to your body
This is perhaps the most important rule of all. Tune into your body. If something doesn’t feel right, immediately come out of the stretch.

Use these 11 yoga poses to stretch and release tight hamstrings. All you need is a comfortable mat, a yoga strap (or towel), and two yoga blocks.


Reclined Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose | 8 breaths per side

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Grab a strap or towel for this stretch and release tight hamstrings and to relieve the lower back and glutes.

  1. Begin by lying down on your back with a strap in one hand.
  2. Straighten your left leg down your mat and bend the right knee into your chest. Flex both feet.
  3. Hold the ends of the strap in both hands and loop it around the bottom of your right foot.
  4. Then, slowly straighten your right leg towards the ceiling until you feel a stretch though your hamstrings.
  5. If you’d like more of a stretch, walk your hands up the strap, closer to your foot. Make sure to keep a slight bend in the knee at all times.
  6. Hold for 8 slow breaths, then switch sides.

Seated Forward Fold | 8 breaths

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This relaxing pose will release tight hamstrings and open up the lower back.

  1. Start by taking a seat on your mat.
  2. Straighten your legs down the mat in front of you, keeping a small bend in the knees.
  3. Inhale and reach your arms above your head. Exhale as you hinge at the hips and fold over your thighs with a flat back.
  4. Grab the bottoms of your feet with your hands, bending your knees more if you need to. Your belly should be touching your thighs.
  5. Hold for 8 slow breaths, breathing into the hamstrings and lower back.

Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose | 8 breaths per side

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This twisting pose opens up the hamstrings, inner thighs, sides of the torso, and the lower back.

  1. Begin by sitting on your mat. Lengthen your right leg down your mat, keeping a slight bend in your right knee, and flex your foot. Bend your left knee and place your left foot on the inside of your right thigh.
  2. Inhale to reach your arms above your head as you sit up tall. Then exhale and twist to the left, placing your right hand on the outside of your left thigh.
  3. On your next inhale, reach your left hand up and over towards your right foot. You should feel a stretch along your left side.
  4. Hold for 8 breaths, then rise back up on an inhale and switch sides.

Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend | 8 breaths

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The relaxing pose opens up the hamstrings, lower back, and inner thighs.

  1. Start by taking a seat on your mat. Straighten your legs down the mat in front of you and place your hands behind your hips.
  2. Separate your legs out wide to come into a straddle position. Then, place your hands inside of your legs and sit up tall. Keep a slight bend in both knees and flex your feet so that your toes point up towards the ceiling.
  3. Inhale to lengthen your spine, then exhale to hinge at the hips and fold forward, keeping your back straight. Once your lower back begins to round, stop and hold for 8 breaths.

Wide-Legged Forward Bend | 8 breaths

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This pose uses gravity to release tight hamstrings and the lower back while lengthening the spine.

  1. Stand facing the long side of your mat with your feet out wide. Turn your feet so that your toes point forward and the outer edges of your feet are parallel to the edges of your mat.
  2. Keep a small bend in the knees. On an exhale, hinge forward at your hips and place your hands on the ground.
  3. Let your head hang heavy and feel the spine release. Make sure to keep a bend in the knees so that your lower back isn’t rounding.
  4. Walk your hands to the outer edges of your feet and use your biceps to deepen the stretch.
  5. Hold for 8 breaths, then slowly roll up to stand on an inhale.

Standing Forward Fold | 8 breaths

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This forward fold allows you to go a little deeper by using your hands to deepen the stretch.

  1. Start by standing with a slight bend in the knees and the feet hip-width distance apart.
  2. On an exhale, hinge forward at the hips with a flat back. Reach your hands to touch the ground. If they don’t easily touch the ground, just bend your knees more until they do. Your belly should rest on your thighs.
  3. Loop your peace fingers (index and middle fingers) and thumbs around your big toes and let your head hang heavy. Keep your shoulders away from your ears and use your biceps to pull your chest towards your thighs.
  4. Hold for 8 breaths.

Gate Pose | 8 breaths per side

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This stretch will release tight hamstrings and open up the inner thighs, outer calves, and the sides of the torso.

  1. Begin in a tabletop position on your hands and knees.
  2. Straighten your right leg back behind you, then sweep it out to the right, bringing your right foot out to the side in line with your left knee. Point your right foot forward and press the pinky toe edge of your foot down so that you feel a stretch through the outside of your right calf.
  3. Inhale to lift your torso up and reach your arms above your head. Then exhale and bring your right hand to the outside of your right leg. Reach up and over your head with your left hand. You should feel a stretch through the inner right thigh and the outside of the left upper body.
  4. Hold for 8 breaths, then release. Repeat on the other side.

Half Split | 8 breaths per side

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This pose gets deep into the hamstrings.

  1. Start in a low lunge with your right leg forward and your hands framing your foot. Keep your left knee back on the ground with toes tucked under.
  2. Inhale and begin to straighten out your right leg, shifting your hips back towards your left heel. Walk your hands back a bit to frame your right knee.
  3. Inhale and reach your chest forward to find a long spine, then exhale and fold over your right thigh.
  4. Hold for 8 breaths, then switch sides.

Note: If you have trouble keeping your hands on the ground, place a block underneath each hand.

Pyramid | 8 breaths per side

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This more intense variation of Half Split also opens up the glutes. Grab two yoga blocks for this pose.

  1. Start in a low lunge with your right leg forward. Place blocks on either side of your foot for your hands to rest. Keep your left toes tucked under and your knee lifted off the ground.
  2. Inhale and begin to straighten out your right leg, lifting your hips towards the sky. Engage your quadriceps and keep a small bend in both knees. Keep your hands on the blocks the entire time.
  3. Inhale and reach your chest forward to find a long spine, then exhale and fold over your right thigh.
  4. Hold for 8 breaths, then switch sides.

Side Lunge | 8 breaths per side

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This hamstrings opener helps to increase ankle flexibility while challenging the core and balance.

  1. To begin, stand facing the long side of your mat with your feet out wide. Turn the feet so that your heels are in and your toes point out at 45-degree angles.
  2. Keep a small bend in the knees. On an exhale, hinge forward at your hips and place your hands on the ground to come into a wide-legged forward bend.
  3. Walk your hands over to the inside of your right foot. Pick your right heel up and bend your right knee to come into a side lunge.
  4. Keep your chest lifted and flex your left toes. Rotate your left leg so that your left toes point up towards the ceiling. Keep your quadriceps engaged to protect the knee.
  5. Feel the stretch through your hips and hamstrings. Hold for 8 breaths, then switch sides.

Standing Splits | 4 breaths per side

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This challenging pose will get your heart rate up and strengthen the core, glutes, and release tight hamstrings.

  1. Start by standing with your feet together and a slight bend in your knees.
  2. On an exhale, hinge forward at the hips with a flat back. Reach your hands to touch the ground. If they don’t easily touch the ground, just bend your knees more until they do.
  3. Keep your fingertips on the ground and shift the weight into your right foot. Inhale and pick your left foot up off your mat and straighten it back behind you. Keep a slight engagement in the quadriceps and keep your hips square to the floor. Flex your left foot so that all five toes point down.
  4. Hold for 4 breaths, then switch sides.

Note: If you want to deepen the stretch, walk your hands back to frame the right foot. If you want less of a stretch, place your hands on blocks.

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