The following set of yoga poses can be used as hamstring strengthening exercises. They work the hamstrings in a variety of different positions for developing all round hamstring strength. This may help improve hamstring flexibility.
The first exercise is extended cat pose (shown at the right).
While on all fours, reach one leg back with the knee straight and pointing downwards.
Pull the sacrum forwards (to arch the lower back) and then slowly lift the back leg higher.
This actually strengthens all the posterior chain if you focus on using the spinal erectors to bend the spine backwards (focus on drawing the sacrum forwards) and in addition use both the butt muscle and the hamstrings to lift the leg higher.
I prefer a slow lift and hold for a breath or two then lower and do the other side, repeating both sides 5 or more times.
An option to add a balance component is to shift weight to the down leg side and lift the arm on the same side as the lifted leg.
A possible counterpose is to tuck the toes under and lift the knees less than an inch off of the floor. I like to see how little I lift the knees as an exercise in body awareness.
Sitting with legs straight forwards the next hamstring strengthening exercise is to press the heels down so that the butt and legs lift up.
Prior to lifting, activate your hamstrings and glutes first. Then press your heels down to lift your hips.
I like to work into this gradually.
Press the heels down slowly and stop when your butt leaves the floor and then lower.
Repeat a few times.
Then squeeze the shoulder blades together and open and lift the chest and gradually lift the hips higher.
For the last repetition you can hold for a slow count of five or more.
While bending forwards with your hands on the floor, press the knees down into the floor, open the chest.
Then relax the legs and use your arms to support your body.
Repeat a few times.
Then after opening the chest lift the hands and reach them forwards to further load the hamstrings.
Then put the hands on the floor and relax the legs.
Once you get used to the exercise you can start with your hands reaching forwards.
Press the legs down, open your chest and lift your hands gradually off of the floor.
For table top hamstring strengthening exercise, sit with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Slowly press down with the feet so that your butt leaves the floor, then lower and relax.
Repeat a few times noticing the feeling of increased pressure in your feet as you lift and also the increase in tension in your thighs.
Each repetition lift a little higher and as you do so retract your shoulder blades and reach your chest up (out of the shoulders) and back, away from the knees.
Hold for the final rep, looking for space to push your hips and ribcage higher.
Sitting with legs wide, 90 degrees, bend forwards.
Position hands further back so that they can support your ribcage.
Press the backs of your knees down, reach your chest away from your pubic bone and gradually peel your hands off of the floor.
Put the hands back on the floor, relax your legs and then repeat.
After a few reps reach your arms forwards to give the hamstrings more work.
You can gradually tilt your pelvis forwards during the relaxation phase so that you stretch your hamstrings as well as strengthen them.
This hamstring strengthening exercise can be used in any forward bend where at least one leg is straight. (Press the knee down and then reach the arms forwards.)
While laying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, press your hips up.
To increase the workload in this hamstring strengthening exercise reach one leg up to the ceiling.
Press the bottom foot down into he floor to lift the pelvis higher and then press the sole of the lifted foot up towards the ceiling.
A variation of the above hamstring strengthening exercise is to lay on the floor with legs straight.
Push the heels down to lift the hips.
You may have to walk the feet back slightly so that you have room to lift the hips off of the floor.
For both bridge options you can press the shoulders down into the floor and work at opening the front of your ribcage.
This hamstring strengthening exercise actually works the hamstring when you stand back up again.
To begin with balance on one foot with knee straight. Lift the other leg and bend the knee pulling it up and back, towards your chest.
Slowly bend forwards. Keep the lifted knee reaching forwards.
If possible touch the hands to the floor.
Then take them off of the floor and slowly stand back up.
So that you exercise the hamstrings while standing up, keep the lifted knee pulling forwards.
If you reach the lifted leg back this shifts your center of gravity backwards relative to the standing leg meaning that the hamstring of that leg does less work when you stand back up.
Repeat three to five times, switching legs each time.
Bend forwards with feet about hip width apart and knees straight. If possible place hands on the floor.
Shift weight to one foot. Make the foot and ankle strong and stable.
Lift the other foot.
Then lift both hands off of the floor.
Keep the lifted foot pulling forwards (as opposed to reaching back like in warrior 3.)
Return to center and then do the other side. Repeat three or more times per side.
This hamstring strengthening exercise is similiar to the previous one except now the idea is to bend forwards and then stand up again.
While bending forwards and standing back up again, keep the knee of the non-supporting leg straight and try to keep the leg pulling forwards.
The standing action is where the hamstring is exercised.
If you have difficulty standing back up you may find it helpful to touch your lifted foot to the floor but keep the weight of your body on one leg. You can use the foot to prevent your pelvis relatively stable. To exercise the hamstrings, t
As you get better at standing upright without undue stress in the hip or leg, experiment with taking the foot off of the floor.
If you find strong pulling sensations or extremely strong lines of tension in your legs or hips, you need to adjust the way that you do the the above standing hamstring strengthening exercise.
It is a sign that something isn't working properly within your body.
And so the sensible thing to do is slow down. Rather than trying to force yourself, notice what you do on the good side (hopefully one side is "good") and try to find the same feeling on the "not so good" side.
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