When we’re stretching, we tend to target our own personal hotspots for muscle tightness. If you’re a runner, like I am, that’s likely your quads and hip flexors; if you frequent spin classes, it’ll be your glutes and your hammies. This is all fine, but according to a stretch coach, there’s one stretch that everyone should be doing, no matter how they sweat: the seated straight leg stretch.
Of all the muscles you’re working on the reg, having tight hamstrings can lead to a domino effect of bodily woes, which is why it’s extra important to use this particular stretch keep them limber. “Tight hamstrings reduce the mobility of the pelvis, which can put pressure on the low back,” says Samira Mustafaeva, a gymnast and founder of SM Stretching. Besides going hand in hand with lower back pain, tight hamstrings throw off your body’s alignment and posture. Plus, they’re just plain uncomfortable.
There are countless hamstring stretches you could fold your body into to help with the cause, but Mustafaeva’s go-to is the classic seated straight leg stretch because it’s “a simple stretch that’s good for people at all levels of flexibility,” she says. In addition to increasing flexibility, it also helps with range of motion, which makes your usual everyday activities easier to do. Her tip? Try the seated straight leg hamstring stretch three times a week, minimum. Or better yet, make it a part of your daily morning routine. Keep scrolling for Mustafaeva’s tips for doing her fave hamstring stretch properly for instant relief.
Seated straight leg hamstring stretch
1. Sit down with both legs straightened out in front of you, knees and heels together. Then reach both arms forward towards your toes to feel a stretch through the back of the legs.
2. If possible, try and hold your toes in this position for a minimum of 60 seconds while taking deep, slow breaths. It’s key to keep your back as straight as possible and not to hunch forward, as she says this puts a strain on the back and takes the stretch away from the hamstrings. Keep your chin neutral, and don’t let it drop to the chest—this will help prevent hunching.
3. Keep your legs straight without letting the knees buckle. If you’re unable to reach your toes while keeping your legs straight, you can hold the end of a towel looped around your foot.
4. As you hold this stretch and feel your muscles start to adjust and relax, you can start going deeper on your exhale and hold, which will slowly increase your hamstring flexibility.
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