I love practicing yoga. I love strengthening and lengthening my muscles feeling an overall transformation every time I step off of my mat, and into my day. I do however, have moments where I wish my heels would drop further to the floor in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog), or that it would be simple to get into Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (hand to big toe pose) with no problem. I know I am not alone over here in hamstring land, so I would like to emphasize the importance of treading lightly when it comes to our hamstrings. Many of us have tight hamstrings whether it’s from years playing sports, running, or lack of stretching. If our hamstrings are underused or overstretched, the muscle could tear easily during our yoga practice, causing a long journey of recovery.
The hamstrings are made up of 3 muscles: biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. This muscle group is located along the posterior thigh between the vastus lateralis (of the quadriceps group) and adductor magnus. The biceps femoris flexes the straight knee and externally rotates the lower leg when the knee is bent. The semitendinosus and semimembranosus make up the inner part of the hamstring originating from the ischial tuberosity. They both flex the straight knee and medially rotate the lower leg when the knee is bent. Tightness in our hamstrings limit poses such as forward bends and standing poses that require internal or external rotation. For example, in Virabhadrasana3 (warrior 3), the internal rotation of the thigh could feel like you’re corkscrewing through cement, thus irritating our sciatic nerve or lower lumbar spine.
When hamstrings are tight, the body will use other joints and muscles to compensate, putting unwanted stress on those areas, eventually causing injury over time. Yoga Tune Up® resuscitates our lifeless and misused muscles the safe way, bringing awareness to our bodies on an everyday basis.
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I can fully relate to this! I’ve practiced yoga for over a decade and my hamstrings are still stubbornly tight. It sounds like I need to figure out how to reduce the amount of time I spend sitting in the car…
Thank you for being so honest and telling us that even after practicing for years you wished for your hamstrings to work with more length. This is a great article for my students & clients to read as the majority have ‘tight’ hamstrings; yet I do not and I’m very flexible. Therefore, it’s very difficult for some of them to comprehend why I am telling them to be careful and not ‘hammer their hammies’.
Although I thought I ‘took care’ of my body by doing yoga and other exercise; I’ve been on the receiving end of my hamstrings saying enough is enough and then they shouted it by my right hamstrings tearing.
The Yoga Tune Up work is a great way to redirect students attention to attuning into their tissues and muscles and not letting other areas over compensate and become injured. Thank you.
After years of practicing yoga my hamstrings are as tight as before. After my YTU training I started to recognize the connection between me – sitting on my heels whenever I´m sitting – and my tight hamstrings. This is a hard one for me to change – I´m so used to it, that I´ve got to remind me throughout my whole day to change my “sitting position”- but I´m on my way 😉
I like thinking of the hamstrings as a bundle. Definitely a good reminder to be mindful when it comes to your hamstrings. I am one of those people who has very flexible hamstrings and still I have to be carful I don’t over do it.
I know that tight hamstrings will result in a lack of flexibility in several key poses, such as downward facing dog. It is important to understand the anatomy of the hamstring and the seriousness of overstretching or over stressing a tight hamstring. The three muscles that make up the hamstring; biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. That the muscles connect to the skeleton at the fibula, tibia, IT & femur. Understanding the skeletal connections allows me to visualize other areas of the body that can be affected by hamstring tightness or overstretching.
Good advice! I did injured my hamstring pushing a little (or a lot) too far and now I feel it in many poses where I hadn’t realize I needed them… warrior 3 is now very difficult even if there wasn’t really a challenge before.
Great post! Given I sit at a desk for a good portion of my day, my hamstrings are often locked long, which may leave me more suceptable to injury, if I do not have more awareness of body mechanics. YTU has been an important eye opener in this regard as often times experiencing the locked long experience may result in desiring a stretch feeling in the hips, glutes and legs in poses in poses like forward fold, when actually what could be far more beneficial would be engaging my Quads. Designing a balanced routine to combat office woes has been key for me, some of my go to’s are poses which strengthen Quads, trigger point self massage of YTU balls in the traps, rhomboids and pectoralis minor, and proprioception exercises which combined have better supported me to prevent injury and improve my posture and breathing
A big aha moment for me was learning that even when muscles “feel tight” they can actually be in a locked long position, and learning how to use reciprocal inhibition, activating the quads can help while treading lightly!
As a runner, the hamstrings are always in play. Changing the placement of one’s foot, helps to recruit different hamstring muscles. This gives better muscular balance.
As a dancer, tight armstring is always a concern for me! I easily loose all the work I’ve put into “unstiff” them I it can get frustrating on the long run. It is great to known that I’m not alone! #teamtightharmstring
Great article. So many of my athletes are humbled by their tight hamstrings and i plan to introduce YTU to them to help with that!
Thank you for explaining the hamstring muscles in a way that is easily understood in terms of location and purpose. Thank you also for the reminder that hamstrings can be pulled in certain poses in yoga, which most people regard as therapeutic, and therefore, not an activity where they can get hurt.
Thank’s God I’m not alone !!!
When I started yoga, I always put the focus on this aspect of my practice. With the time, acceptance and letting go is done quietly. But I still wonder why? My hamstrings are they too tight, under-used or injured?
I’m fortunate not to have hamstrings that are too tight, but teach to many men whose hamstrings really limit their range of motion in forward folds. I can’t wait to work with them on some of the YTU work that can help them become a bit more flexible.
I think one thing that should try to be understood, is WHY. Why do the hamstrings get so tight? What actions in our daily life are causing those muscles to remain tight despite our many yoga practices. Once you can go to the source, it is much easier to eradicate it!
I can identify with the topic of this article. Using the therapy balls on the hamstrings has certainly helped( I have felt the twinges when straightening my legs before the balls). The balls coupled with especially the pin stretch technique have helped tremendously.
Great artilce on hamstring, always tight on me, and now I can use the therapy balls to loosen up dig into the superficial fascae, muscle, deep fascia, helps me move freely, and not so tight, be able to be pain free when I bend over to pick up an item.
I am so hard on myself because of my tight hamstrings. I am a yoga teacher and often just feel like I should be able to do more! I am recently discovering the effect of the therapy balls on helping to loosen them up and also to just be gentler with myself. We all have our limtations!
I find that I am always treating my hamstring with “kidd gloves” becasue of their tightness. Understanding the way the muscles weave in and out of each other in this area of the body while rolling can make a world of difference not only on the mat but how we walk through the world. Thanks for your informative post!
Thank you for the clear hamstring anatomy description. I’m working on learning all the individual muscles names and what does what, so this was very helpful for me!
strangely, I hadn’t thought of Warrior III being problematic with tight hamstrings, but I will be aware of it in future!
Thanks for this post! I often find that in yoga we are so focused on lengthening the hamstrings but as soon as I’m off the matt I begin to undo all the work I’ve done and my hamstrings stiffen up again. Skating, cycling and running seem to be particularity bad for stiffing up my hamstrings. I would like to try an incorporate more of the therapy ball work into the hamstring in the hopes that this will help me to maintain more hamstring flexibility without overdoing it. In the post I think I’ve tried to over work the hamstrings then pay for it with minor injuries. I would love to know some other quick exercises that I can do to help the hamstrings while not pushing them too far.
Hi Lauren – Thanks for your post, I am currently finishing my YTU exam and am inspired by another yogi who also dreams of getting her heels to the floor in Downward Dog. You are not alone.
I appreciation your emphasis on being careful not to ask too much of this muscle group. I have experienced the long lasting effects of overstretching my hamstrings while trying to prevent injury from overuse and I understand first hand the necessity to approach hamstring stretches with acute awareness.
The title and topic of this post spoke to me because I find myself constantly asking my hamstrings that same question- “Why must you be so tight.” It’s like I have been in an “on & off” polyamorous relationship with my biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. We have our moments where we are really bonding and growing together (they are becoming more flexible! Woohoo!), but quickly those moments of ooey gooey love turns into a sudden breakup. From which I then have to rely on unhealthy relationship to fill that void (overcompensation of other muscles). It is a tough cycle to break.
I’m right there with you when it comes to hamstring tightness Lauren. When I began my yoga practice a couple years ago, my hamstrings were SO tight and weak as well, and I decided that one of my main goals of yoga was to reverse these trends. I can attest to the fact that it is certainly a process which takes time and patience, and that your body will not respond well to forcing the stretch in it’s muscles.
As my awareness of my own body has grown through yoga and further education, I have been able to decipher exactly what tightness still remains when I step on my mat each day – recently I have noticed much more tightness laterally in both hammies, with the biceps femoris likely being the main culprit. The plan is as it always has been – be patient, and be in tune with how my legs feel each day I practice. Thanks for the info Lauren!
I love yoga and feel the same way when the poses shine light on how tight my hamstrings are. I’ve been practicing for a few years but still have perpetual hamstring tightness.
Thank you for going into the detail of the muscles that make up the hamstring and why poses such as standing split or warrior III can be irritating. The tightness is frustrating and I try to push myself but as I go through Teacher Training and learn more about anatomy and how the muscles work together it will be good to keep in mind that other muscles and joints compensate for tightness and I, as well as any of my future students, should be mindful of this and take care of their bodies.
As a runner and practicing yogi, like many others, tight hamstrings are a consistent issue with me. It’s always nice to know that I’m not alone with how frustrating it is to not be able to effortless place myself into certain postures due to inflexibility in my hamstrings. In going through my teacher training at this time, the encouragement to not push too far is a nice reminder, especially because I am taking so hours of practice and postures. It’s also a good reminder to keep in mind that I could put a lot of strain and possibly damage other muscles due to pushing too hard; it’s something that I often don’t think about when pushing myself. I also wanna thank you for the video of leg stretches that will hopefully help get rid of the tightness and allow me to gain more flexibility.
Glad I am not alone in tight hamstring world! Though I know alot of people have the same issue, it is one that keeps me advancing in alot of my poses after 5 years of practicing. For example, i’m practing alot of inversions right now. Going into handstand the teachers always instruct you to walk your feet in and just pop up off your toes-for me this is impossible! Same as when we are turned to the side wall with our legs spread leaning forward into headstand! Some of the basic postures such as standing split or warrior 3 are still a struggle to me. I find I need to keep reminding myself to work on my forward folds!
Good question Lauren, I often wonder why my hamstrings are still so tight. I thought once I started teaching yoga my hip flexion (forward folds) would feel as smooth as butter. But I still experience hamstring tightness. I appreciate that you bring up the point that it’s not only under use that contributes to tightness, but actually overstretching too! Thanks also for the link to the leg stretches that help alleviate tightness.
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Thanks Lauren for your post . The first time I took a Yoga Tune Up class I knew it was for me! I love anatomy and learning how my body works. Reading about the hamstrings and their forever tightness has helped me embody “movement education” as a student and teacher accepting that I can move slower through a class without judgement(tightness), as I am doing my best with what I know at that very moment, always remembering that the learning is never over…… and that my hamstring tightness will learn right along beside me, one breath at a time. Namaste . Nancy
Hi…I’m currently working on my sequence for my “Sweet Sixteen Pose” which is Uttanasa…so reading your blog was a little extra study practice for me. My anatomy knowledge needs all the review it can get so understanding that the hamstring is a bundle of 3 muscles the bicep femoris (I just cheated :)), the semitendonosus and the semimembranosus (got those ones!!) really helps!! I can’t possibly take anymore in at this point. I’m just trying to let go of the fear and stress 🙂 Thanks for the blog!
Read your article earlier and posted it on my Facebook page because so many of my students have such tight hamstrings even after practicing yoga for a long time. I always have to warm up hamstrings before class. If I don’t that first forward fold is uncomfortable and not ony pulls on my hammies but my lower back. Thanks for the reminder to listen to our own bodies and go slow.
“Tight Hammies” are an epidemic of my non-yoga tuneup practicing friends. Often you can see a tilt in their resting posture as their body over compensate by calling on other muscles for relief. I agree that often students push their hamstrings to far in an effort to increase their range of motion before it’s time. It is a good reminder to encourage students to listen to their own bodies and not compete against the mat beside them.
Before going into any vigorous yoga classes where I know the warm up consist as a “few” sun salutations, I always like to roll the TU balls all over my plantar fascia and also doing a few YTU pose like Asymmetrical Uttansana (forward bend) or deep calf stretch with 2 blocks ( step one foot on a 45 degree block – set over another block – and drop your hill down, hold there for 90sec min). it help me freeing the whole posterior chain ( including feet, ankles, gasto, hamstrings and beyond) and my forward fold and down dog are much more enjoyable
People love learning about their hamstrings – I think it’s so relatable because many students notice a distinct tightness in forward bends so the lengthening there feels like putting on a new pair of legs. Due to the risk of injuries you describe, it is an important plot line to stick with for students so they can take care of the surrounding areas in their bodies by inviting release to the hamstrings. Thanks for the reminder!
It’s super important to listen to your body and not push yourself to the brink of disaster just to compete with a more flexible student. It’s so true that when hamstrings are tight, the body will use other joints and muscles to compensate, putting unwanted stress on those areas, eventually causing injury over time. If you feel like you’ve gone too far then you’ve probably gone to far!
I taught a hamstrings class today using all varieties of Leg Stretch 1,2,3 and Warrior 3. Open chain, closed chain, dynamic, active static, passive static, PNF, you name it, we did it! Lots of happy hamstring wearers today. I always open a hamstring class with a little discussion on injury prevention. Thanks for reinforcing the anatomy behind this ropey, tight muscle group.
Lauren: I’ve learned from Brooke Thomas, that some people are born with shorten hamstrings.
As we have these stretches and yoga tune up balls to help us find our norm, I do agree that we
Need to be mindful as instructors when cueing, if can’t put your heels down, one day you will when
In reality it may not be that student’s norm and we could be setting them up for injury.
We should all listen to our bodies and take our poses and stretches to our self’s point vs our breaking
Point, because the student next to us can do it.
Learned (or should I see RElearned because really I already knew!) the lesson of treading lightly when it comes to the hamstrings by pushing it when I first was presented with Compass pose and felt really wowed by it. Pushing it in the pose cost me months of an annoying nagging pain right up at the insertion of the hamstrings. Lesson learned and I always communicate this to those who take my classes!