Pilates & Hamstrings

Tight Hamstrings Can Be a Source of Lower Back Pain, Which is Very Common in people who exercise and stretch, as well as those who do not. 

The hamstrings are massive muscles (at the back of your thighs) responsible for bending the knee and assisting the gluteal muscles to extend the hip. They are in constant use, so when they are tight, they limit the range of motion in the pelvis which can increase stress across the low back and corrupt correct posture. Stretching the hamstrings can gradually lengthen them and reduce the stress felt in the lower back.

One way to gently stretch hamstring muscles is to lie on the back and grasp the leg behind the knee with the hip flexed to 90 degrees and the knee bent. Attempt to straighten the knee with the toes pointed back toward you.

Make a stretching regime a regular part of your day and in no time at all you'll be walking freely, running faster and be pain free with a big grin on your face.

Here are a couple of Pilates exercises you can do to increase the flexibility and strength of your hamstrings. The good news: they work other parts of your body too!

Single Leg Circles

Purpose:  This exercise will stretch the hamstring, mobilize the hip joints, teach pelvic stabilization and strengthen the hip flexors.

What you do: to prepare, extend one leg out toward the tip of your mat, leg straight and foot flexed. Bend the opposite leg toward your chest and wrap both hands around the back of that knee.

Start with knee bends: Stretch the lifted leg toward the ceiling and flex your foot, feeling the stretch in your hamstring. Bend and stretch the knee 3 times to prepare for the leg circle. Doing the knee bend before the leg circle (on each side) will release the hamstring so you could get a bigger range of motion throughout the exercise. 

Now onto the leg circles:

1.  Extend the raised leg toward the ceiling and point your toes to begin. Flex the foot of the bottom leg. Go only as far as you can to keep your pelvis from rocking side to side. 

2.  Circle the leg across the body and down toward the opposite leg. Make sure that the hip of the leg on the mat is rooted into the mat and not lifting off while you are doing the leg circle. 

3.  Finish the circle, and get back to the starting position with your extended leg pointed toward the ceiling. Repeat the circle 8 times.

4.  Switch directions by circling the same pointed leg away from the body and back to the starting position. Repeat reverse circle 8 times.

5.  Bring the raised leg down to the mat, flex the foot, and repeat with the other leg.

Breath pattern: Inhale to start the circle, exhale to finish the circle.

Pelvic Curl

Purpose: This exercise will strengthen the hamstrings. The hamstrings (together with the abdominals) lift the pelvis off the floor without moving the legs, and work hard to keep the body in a bridge position.  It’s the abdominal-hamstring force that help move the pelvis and articulate the spine while keeping the legs still.

What you do: to prepare, lie on your mat with knees bent and feet flat on the mat, hip-distance apart. Place arms by your side with palms down.

1.  Draw the abdominals in, and slowly curl the pelvis up, and lift the lower back, then the middle back, then the upper back sequentially off the mat.

2.  Stay lifted, with your glutes engaged, abdominals pulled in to form a straight line on the top side of the body. Hold here for a few seconds.

3.  Lower the torso, one vertebra at a time starting with the upper back to return to the starting position. 

4.  Breath pattern: Inhale to prepare, exhale to lift off the mat into the bridge, inhale to reach a bit higher into the straight line, exhale while slowly lower down one vertebrae at a time.