Hamstrings, the muscles that run up the back of your thighs, need attention to stay strong and healthy. If they become too tight from sitting at a desk hour after hour, you may be at risk for a painful pull or tear. When hamstrings are too loose -- which can be caused by hanging out in a split or stretching without strengthening -- you can unbalance your thigh by developing powerful quads and weak hamstrings. Yoga can help you strike a good balance and keep hamstring muscles in tip-top shape.
Long and Loose
Inactivity causes hamstrings to tighten. Most hamstring injuries arise from hamstrings that are too short or too tight. When you feel an ache or mild pain in your "sit bones" during yoga practice, you've probably strained your tight hamstrings. The smart move is to skip poses like Forward Bends that stress your hamstrings and give muscle tissue time to heal. Continue to work gently on lengthening hamstrings and maintaining or developing flexibility with modified poses. Use blocks to shorten the stretch in Triangle and Intense Side Stretch poses. For reclining Head-to-Big-Toe, don't grab your toe for the maximum stretch. Use a strap around your instep to gently raise your leg and avoid stressing the hamstrings, recommends Yoga Journal.
Standing Forward Bend, Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend and Wide-Legged Forward Bend are powerful hamstring stretches. They can contribute to a painful injury, however, if you do them before you've warmed up or if you approach the poses without appropriate caution. Safeguard your tender tendons by warming up to get the blood flowing to lower body and leg muscles before bending into a challenging stretch. Avoid pushing hard or abruptly into the stretch -- hamstrings could react with a reflex contraction that tightens them against your stretch and causes a tear. Practice a well-rounded stretching routine and always work both sides to avoid hamstrings that are not evenly stretched and strong. Avoid intense stretching at the end of a workout or routine when you are hot, sweaty, tired and more likely to overstretch a hamstring muscle.
Stronger Equals Safer
Lower your risk of hamstring injury with poses recommended by Yoga Journal to strengthen tendons and muscles. Upward Plank, in which your torso forms an unbroken, slanted line as you face the ceiling and support yourself on your hands and pointed feet, contracts hamstrings. Keep hips high and shoulder blades down as you hold for 30 seconds. Warrior III strengthens your entire leg and improves balance as you stand on one leg, folding forward at the hips, extending arms and lifted leg to form a flat torso. Pressing the heel of the supporting leg into the floor and pointing the toes of the extended leg intensifies the pose. Hold for 30 seconds and resist locking either knee. Alternate sides.
Rehab for Runners
Runners tend to develop powerful quads with weaker hamstrings, and a quick stretch before or after a run may not be enough to protect against a pull. Mild hamstring strains benefit from rest -- a couple of yoga poses that can be added to the runner's arsenal for rehab and future protection. Lie on a yoga mat and use a strap around your arch to assist with a Supine Leg Stretch. Pull your knee to the chest with the strap, exhale, lengthen the leg toward the ceiling just as far as it is comfortable and hold between 30 seconds and one minute. With no weight on your leg, the hamstring relaxes into the stretch easily. Lying face-down with legs and arms extended, toes pointed, squeeze your glutes and thighs and contract your core to lift your legs and upper torso into Locust pose. Hold 30 seconds, release, and repeat three times.
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