There are three hamstring muscles that literally hang from your sits bones to your lower leg bones. This group of muscles has a direct effect on hips and knees. Hamstrings are part of our core systems, help us walk more efficiently and are part of our superficial back myofascial line. When they’re working well, our hips feel free, the low back is supported and we can move through our daily lives with ease. When they’re not working so well, it’s important to wake up and pay a little extra attention to the health of our hamstrings.

Who can benefit from hamstring health?

Anyone with issues in the hips and low back can benefit from hamstring health… so that means the majority of people.

Here are some things that can tip you off that hamstrings could be a useful focus:

  • Sore and achy low back, even after walking
  • Difficulty getting from sitting to standing and vice versa
  • Siting for long periods of time
  • Need and want to improve posture
  • Stiff or hypermobile body

A few things you want to know about hamstrings

When hamstrings don’t pull properly, they affect knees (they become flexed or hyperextended) and the pelvis tips forward (when too long) or back (when too short). This can affect posture from head to toe.

Hamstrings are also involved in rotation at the hip and the knee, so they can also cause twists and torques in the body.

People with knee issues often have a poor balance between quadriceps and hamstrings. If quads are really, really tight, then the hamstrings are strained. People may have pain in the buttock or back of thigh when they’re walking or sudden pain when they’re exercising if the hamstrings are too tight or too weak.

Glutes and hamstrings should work together synergistically. Many people recruit hamstrings instead of glutes. When working out, make sure to work the glutes before the hamstrings for better recruitment of both. Shoulder bridge with feet on the floor (not elevated) and side lying series are excellent for this.

For optimal stabilizing effect of proximal hamstrings and glutes, individuals with an anteriorly tilted pelvis should flex knees AFTER hip extension. For an posteriorly tilted pelvis, some forms of hip flexion (i.e., sanding hip hinge) should happen BEFORE knee flexion.

Normal hamstring range (ROM) for hamstrings is 70 to 90 degrees. To test your ROM, lie supine and bring one leg toward vertical. See how high you can get without strain and while maintaining a neutral pelvis.

Here are some Pilates exercises you can use to condition hamstrings

Pilates mat work warm up series for hamstrings

  • Pelvic tilts – both directions
  • Hugging knee to chest
  • Hip circles
  • Hip sways
  • Hip circles
  • Supine leg raise using a band
  • Anything to work or release the feet
  • Cat cow
  • Quadruped hip glides

Pilates mat work hamstring conditioning series

  • Bridge
  • Supine leg raise
  • Side kick & any other side lying (to condition the glutes)
  • Hip glides
  • Prone spine extension
  • Prone spine extension with knee flexion
  • Downward dog
  • Standing hip hinge
  • Squats with a focus on the glutes
  • Downward dog to arabesque

Key conditioning exercises on the Pilates reformer (beginner to advanced)

  • Footwork
  • Heel lift and lower
  • Running
  • Sagittal leg arcs
  • Circles in both directions
  • Knee stretch – flat back and round back
  • Elephant – feet flat and with toes lifted
  • Swan
  • Swan + knee extension
  • Grasshopper – with parallel and turnout
  • Hamstring curls
  • Up stretch
  • Arabesque
  • Tendon stretch

Our favourite hamstring exercises from Mondays with Margot

Simple hip spirals with a ball

Reverse walking for more spring in your step

Get rid of airplane legs – hamstring stretch to target all different aspects of the hamstrings

Bridge with a kick – literally

Best bridge aka hip thrust

Swan dive over stability ball

Hip thigh buttock sculpting

3 in 1 exercise for the body’s back track

Get rid of tight hips and make space in your lower back

Sculpt your hips in 2 steps

A new way to do squats

Glorious glutes

Glorious glutes 2

Hamstring resources from Body Harmonics Shoptalk

Pilates exercise to build a healthy spine

How to prep for a Pilates roll up

Why can’t I do a Pilates roll up?

Workshops to learn more

Foot and ankle: the body’s spring system – October 15, 2016 (Vancouver) / November 6, 2016 (Toronto)

Gait Analysis – October 29 (Toronto)

Post rehab protocols: hip & knee – October 21 & 22 (Toronto)