Thigh Pull Hamstring Stretch
Tight hamstrings can affect your back and really limit your activities. The following set of instructions are intended for people who are just starting a stretching program or are dealing with lower back pain or an injury. In other words, this is a hamstring stretch for beginners and the deconditioned.
For this exercise, you will need a towel that is big enough to fit around your thigh about one and a half to two times. Later on in this article, I'll provide instruction on how to do the exercise without a towel, as shown in the accompanying picture.
Start Position for the Hamstring Stretch
Lie on your back (supine), either with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, or one knee bent and the other leg extended straight (this version may also stretch your hip flexors, which for many of us can be a very beneficial thing.) Place the center of the towel at the back of your thigh, and hold the towel with your hands, at the ends. Note: you’ll be able to adjust the degree of thigh pull you get with different hand placements. The closer to your thigh you hold the towel, the more intense this exercise will be. If you are a beginner, you have really tight hamstrings or you have pain from a back, hip or knee injury, I suggest holding the towel pretty close to the ends to start. Once you’re used to doing this exercise, and your hamstrings have loosened a bit, then experiment with moving your grip on the towel incrementally closer to your leg.
Slowly lift the leg with the towel behind it off the floor, flexing at the hip joint to make that happen. Take your leg up so that it is perpendicular to the floor (or come as close as you can). When your thigh is in the correct start position, your leg (or your knee if you choose to keep it bent, which is easier, by the way) will be pointing toward the ceiling.
Begin The Stretching Action
Pull the towel towards your body. This should bring the top (front) of your thigh toward the front of your trunk, and it should increase the degree of flexing (bending) in the hip joint. Take care not to allow the bottom of your pelvis to ride up in response to the leg pull. This position puts your hamstring on a stretch.
As to how far forward you should pull your leg, take it to the point where you can feel the stretch but it’s not terribly painful. This represents an edge where changes in the muscle occur. In other words, move your thigh to the place where you can tolerate the pain but you can definitely feel that something is happening in your hamstrings.
Stick with the stretch in this position for 5-30 seconds. Thirty seconds is best, if you can manage it. Just don’t bounce as you stretch. Bouncing while stretching (called ballistic stretching) is generally regarded as counterproductive, if not outright risky. And if you already have back pain or an injury of some sort, the risk of an injury may be increased with ballistic stretching. Breathing deeply and fully may help you deal with the intensity or pain from the stretch.
How Many Should You Do and How Often?
Put your foot back down on the floor. Repeat 2 or 3 times more. Take a short break and repeat this stretch on the other leg. Stretching your hamstrings every day may be good for your back, and if your hamstrings are super tight, as they tend to be with flat low back posture, stretching twice or even 3 times per day may be helpful to you.
Progressing Your Hamstring Stretches Safely
A theraband or tubing can be used in lieu of a towel, or if you just want to switch things up a bit. Once you feel confident about this stretch, try it without any aid at all. In other words, you can place your hands behind the back of your mid thigh and gently pull your leg towards you. This will be more challenging than doing the stretch with a towel or theraband, so it is best to start out by following the instructions above.
Remember, this hamstring stretch is for the beginner. As your flexibility improves, you can progress to more challenging versions. For example, you might try a seated hamstring stretch when you are ready to give up some of the support the floor offers you in the supine position.
Kisner, Carolyn and Colby, Lynn Allen. Therapeutic Exercise Foundations and Techniques. 4th ed. 2002. F.A. Davis Company. Philadelphia, Pa.