Hamstring Helper: 3 stretches to loosen up your legs

Can you touch your toes? If tight hamstrings have you in a long distance relationship with your feet, it won’t be long before there is trouble in paradise.  Firm muscle fibers can contribute to imbalances in the body, which result in lower-back pain, muscle pulls and tears, and limited athletic ability.  Keep your hamstrings strong and flexible with the following stretches.

Straight Leg Swing

10 reps per leg

10 reps per leg

Using a chair for support, keep the leg closest to the chair securely grounded and elevate the opposite leg.  Keeping the hips loose, flex the ankle so the joint is 90 degrees.  Begin slowly swinging the leg forward and back, like a pendulum, to loosen up the hamstrings and hip flexors.  Challenge yourself by seeing how high you can lift the leg in both directions.

Safety tip: Avoid hunching when pulling the leg forward.  Instead, keep good posture with the shoulders back and the core muscles engaged.  For beginners, keep the legs slightly bent at the knees and swing low through the hips.   

Frankenstein Walk

10 reps per leg

10 reps per leg

With Halloween around the corner, the Frankenstein Walk is a great way to get in the spirit and scare off the muscle monster lurking in your hamstrings. 

Keep the neck relaxed as you extend the arms forward to shoulder height.  Step forward with your right foot and kick the left foot up toward your hand.  Alternate legs for a total of 20 repetitions.  If connecting the hands and feet is a challenge, try bending the knees to help reach your target.  As your flexibility increases, so should the extension of the leg. 

Towel Hamstring Stretch

Hold stretch for 30-60 seconds

Hold stretch for 30-60 seconds

This assisted stretch uses a towel to extend the hamstring muscle.  It is important to avoid jerky movements, or pulling too hard when attempting this stretch.  To help keep your upper body relaxed, opt for a long shower towel rather than a shorter one. 

Starting in supine position, secure the towel around the center of the right foot.  If you lack a good range of motion, keep the opposite leg bent.  Slowly pull the extended leg toward the body and hold.  To hit other tight muscles of the leg, try lowering the leg laterally to the outside of the body, then across the body to stretch the IT Band.  The goal is to keep the leg as straight as possible to ensure the hamstring is being targeted properly. 

If you want to have a healthy relationship with your body, start by showing your legs some love.

Earn it.

This article originally appeared on philly.com