Yoga for athletes: How to safely target your hamstrings

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Try this simple yoga sequence to get an effective, targeted stretch in your hamstrings and IT band.

Whatever your sport, chances are your hamstrings, and your inner and outer thighs could do with a good stretch. Stretching the hamstrings involves decreasing the angle between the upper body and the legs, and this can be done in a number of ways, depending on the orientation of your body.

From a standing position you could bring your foot up on to a low wall or bar in front of you. Or from a seated position you could extend your legs in front of you and lean forward over them. Both of these options however run the risk of compromising the stretch in the hamstrings by rounding into the back.

The simple yoga sequence shown here, lying on your back, is a very effective way to isolate a stretch into your hamstrings without compromising the stretch by taking movement into your back. It targets each of your hamstring muscles, and then moves through to the abductors and adductors.

For this sequence you will need a yoga strap. If you don’t have one, improvise with any kind of long non-elastic ‘strap’, such as belt, rope or similar.

hamstringstretchesHamstring strap series – how to do it

– Lie you your back with your knees bent and feet close to your hips.

– Extend your right leg up and take the strap around the ball of the foot, just below the toes. Hold one end of the strap in each hand, at a level that allows you to keep your shoulders relaxed on the floor. Bring the right leg up to a level where you feel a moderate (not extreme) stretch down the back of the leg.

– Gently lift your head up towards your knee, like you are doing a low sit-up. Feel your lower back settle into the floor, then lengthen your left leg along the floor. Press out through your left heel, and keep this leg engaged through the whole sequence.

– Lower your head and shoulders back to the floor. Keep your awareness in the stretch through the centre of the hamstrings, gradually letting the stretch deepen. Remain here for 30 seconds.

– Move the right leg slightly out to the right side (to about outer shoulder width). This will shift the stretch more into your inner hamstring muscle. Stay here, keeping a moderate level of stretch, for 30 seconds.

– Next, move your right leg to the left a little, taking it just across the centre line of the body but not past your left shoulder. Now you’ll be stretching into your outer hamstring. Hold for 30 seconds.

– To move to an inner thigh stretch, hold both ends of the strap in your right hand. Place your left hand on top of your left hip bone. Lower your right leg out to the right. Aim to keep your left hip grounded on the floor (use your left hand as a guide). Keep pressing actively through both your heels, and look for the stretch coming to the inside of your right thigh. Hold for 30 seconds.

– Bring the right leg back up to centre. Take both ends of the strap into your left hand, and keep the right leg travelling across the centre of your body and over to the left side. It’s OK to roll onto your left hip, but aim to keep your right shoulder on the floor. Keep pressing out through both heels. Notice the stretch now coming into your outer thigh. (This is a great stretch for your IT band). Hold and allow the stretch to deepen for 30 seconds.

– Bring your leg back up to centre and release the strap. Before changing sides, extend both legs straight out on the floor and observe whether your right side feels any longer than your left. Then repeat the sequence on the other side.

If you try this sequence you’ll notice how effectively and safely you can isolate stretches into the hamstrings. By lying on the floor, you will eliminate any strain on the back as it won’t be able to ‘compensate’ for tightness in the hamstrings.

Try this online – watch the video:

If you would like me to talk you through a detailed version of this sequence, you can view a video on my website. Go to www.balanceyoga.co.nz/free-yoga-videos.html, grab a strap and find a place to lie down and join me.

Sarah MacDonald is a professional yoga teacher and New Zealand’s only officially certified Yoga for Athletes instructor. She recently opened Balance Yoga Studio in Cambridge where she is committed to helping people of all ages discover the benefits of yoga. She specialises in working with athletes of all levels from any sport, and can tailor yoga sessions to complement any athlete’s training regime. www.balanceyoga.co.nz

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