How do I loosen up tight hamstrings?

If consistent stretching of your hamstrings is not helping, it may be possible your hamstrings are not actually tight, but rather your pelvis is out of alignment.

Try stretching your hip flexors (muscles in front of your hip responsible for hip flexion) with a standing hip flexor stretch and then strengthening your gluteals (butt muscles) with a ball bridge.This may help re-align your pelvis and take pressure off your hamstrings.

Extended periods of sitting can cause tightness of your hip flexors and weakness of your gluteals, especially if you sit with poor posture. This may cause your pelvis to tilt forward. When this occurs, your hamstrings are often required to work twice as hard to "pick up the slack" for your weakened gluteals. In addition, forward tilting of the pelvis can cause a sensation of tightness in the hamstrings, when in fact they are actually being mechanically lengthened.

Try this static stretch: kneeling hip stretch

To get rid of those tight hamstrings try training your core to be more stable. It’s true that the hamstrings often feel tight because of a lack of muscle flexibility; however that’s not always the cause. Interestingly, when there is muscle weakness or a lack of stability around key parts of the body such as the core, comprised of the hips, abs/lower back, and shoulders. The body's response is to increase the tension in the surrounding muscles, like your hamstrings, for example, in an effort to protect itself from injury.

This thought process was put to the test in a 2009 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports that evaluated the effects of a four week core stability training program on hamstring stiffness (tightness).  The outcome of the study was pretty cool in that after four weeks of core stability training only and no hamstring stretching, participants experienced a significant decrease in the stiffness (improved flexibility) of their hamstrings. 

See if you experience less hamstring tightness by incorporating the following core stabilization circuit into your exercise routine (all exercises performed in a row without rest):

1. Prone Iso-Abs (planks)
2. Bridges
3. Cable Torso Iso-Rotations

Perform 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps 3x/week

Exercise Tips:
1. Go slow and focus on your form and technique
2. Keep your abs engaged (pull your belly button toward your spine)
3. Modify the exercises to make them less or more challenging depending on your level of ability

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Medically reviewed in September 2020.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.