Hamstring strain exercises are important for recovering from hamstring injuries. Here we demonstrate and explain hamstring stretches, isometric strengthening, dynamic strengthening, and functional or sports-specific exercises.
Medically reviewed by Dr Chaminda Goonetilleke, 24th Dec. 2022
Hamstring stretching exercises
No hamstring stretching exercises should be done during the acute stage, immediately following injury. Learn more about how and when to do hamstring exercises with our full Hamstring strain rehabilitation program.
How long the acute phase lasts depends on how bad your injury is. However, this is usually 2 to 4 days. You can usually begin stretching exercises when daily activities such as normal walking are pain-free.
Straight leg hamstring stretches
The aim here is to get a little bit of elasticity to the healing tissue. it is not to increase flexibility at this stage. This stretch can also be done sitting down.
- Place your foot on a table or similar and lean into the stretch.
- keeping your leg straight and chest up.
- Take the stretch as far as is comfortable and hold. Relax into the stretch.
- Aim to stretch forward from the hip rather than the shoulders.
- You should feel a gentle stretch at the back of your thigh, but it should not be painful.
- As a guide, perform 3 sets of 10-15 seconds once or twice a day.
Bent leg hamstring stretches
Bent leg hamstring stretches target the muscle fibres closer to your hip. Straight leg hamstring stretches target the fibres nearer the knee.
- Lie on your back and pull the leg over keeping your knee very slightly bent.
- You should feel a gentle stretch at the back of your leg.
- Again, this should not be painful.
- Aim for 3 sets of 10 seconds once or twice a day.
Dynamic hamstring stretching exercises
Dynamic stretching involves movement. This type of stretching is more functional or sports-specific. It uses your muscle’s natural sensors (muscle spindles) to stretch the muscles.
Dynamic hamstring exercises include:
- Active straight leg raise.
- Cycling upside down.
- Dynamic walks.
Perform 3 x 10 reps of each of the dynamic hamstring stretches, gently swinging the straight leg as high as is comfortable. Do not force, or try to bounce into the stretch. Let your muscles go through their natural range of motion.
Hamstring strengthening exercises
Below are a number of progressively more difficult hamstring exercises to strengthen the muscles. They should always be done pain-free. Where you start and how fast you progress depends on how bad your injury is and how long ago it was injured.
For more details on how to progress visit our hamstring strain rehabilitation program.
Isometric hamstring exercises
These hamstring exercises work the hamstring muscles statically (without movement). it is important to do them at varying amounts of flexion (knee bend).
- Lie on your front in the prone position.
- A partner or therapist provides resistance as you contract the hamstring muscles, hold for 3 or 4 seconds then relax.
- Change the amount your knee is bent to work the muscle at different lengths.
Once you have worked the muscles through a range of angles, repeat with your foot turned outwards. Then again with your foot turned inwards. This targets the inner and outer hamstring muscles as well.
Standing knee flexion
- Stand on one leg and bend the other one using just gravity as resistance.
- Start gently and slowly to start with as an early stage exercise.
- Aim for 3 sets of 10 repetitions once a day, building to 4 sets of 20 reps.
- Ankle weights can be used to increase the load further.
During the later stages when you begin running again, you should perform this exercise more explosively.
Hamstring catch exercises
Allow your leg to fall from a bent position. Use your hamstring muscles to catch the leg before it falls horizontal. It may take a while to get used to this one.
- Stay relaxed as your leg falls under the influence of gravity.
- Only contract the hamstring muscles to prevent the foot from landing.
- This starts to work the hamstring muscles eccentrically, with a very light dynamic training effect.
- Again begin with 1 set of 10 reps and build up each day to 3 sets of 15 reps. Use ankle weights to increase the load on the muscle if necessary.
Remember, hamstring exercises should be done pain free both during, afterwards as well as the next day. A little bit of natural muscle soreness the following day is OK but if it is uncomfortable then take a step back.
- Lie on your back, knees bent, and push the hips upwards to work the gluteal muscles and hamstrings.
- Use both feet on the floor pushing up, to begin with.
- Hold the position briefly and then lower it.
- Begin with 3 sets of 8 reps building to 3 sets of 12 reps then progress the exercise to single-leg bridges.
- Single-leg bridges are done in the same way ensuring you squeeze the gluteal muscles and aim to maintain a straight line from the shoulder on the ground to the knee at the top point of the exercise.
- Again, begin with 3 x 8 reps and build up.
Seated hamstring curl
This is a deceptively difficult exercise that works the hamstring muscles specifically in a very contracted close range of movement.
- One end of a resistance band is tied to a fixed point or held by a partner and the other end secured to the foot.
- Pull your heel into the buttocks.
- Aim for 3 sets of 8 reps to begin building up to 3 sets of 12 or 15.
Single leg hip extensions
This is a more advanced version of a bridge.
- Using a step or box to raise your elbows, alternate putting each heel to the floor.
- It is important to maintain good core stability and keep your hips and shoulders still.
- As your heel touches the ground the gluteal muscles and hamstrings have to work isometrically to keep your body stable.
- This works the hamstring muscles in a position similar to how they are when sprinting or accelerating.
Single-leg ball pick up
This is another deceptively difficult hamstring exercise that looks easy at first glance. It is important to judge muscle soreness the next day before overdoing this one.
- This exercise works the hamstring muscles in a very stretched position, particularly the muscle fibers nearer the buttocks.
- Place one foot in front of the other and bend down to pick up the medicine ball.
- Repeat the movement to put the ball back down.
- As a guide, aim for 5 to 10 repetitions.
Lunge with ball
A basic lunge is performed while holding a ball to aid balance.
- This exercise strengthens the glutes, hamstring muscles, and quadriceps muscles.
- Stand with your injured leg in a wide stance in front of the other.
- Holding a medicine ball close to your chest.
- Dropdown moving your weight onto your front leg whilst dropping the back knee to the floor.
Check the level of muscle soreness the next day with this one.
- This exercise is a more advanced version of the single-leg ball pick-up and works the lower back and hamstring muscles eccentrically, especially the fibres towards the top of the thigh.
- Bend forward at the waist keeping your back straight.
- This also works the hamstrings as they stretch.
Norwegian leg curl
One of the most advanced hamstring exercises. Do not do this one before trying to sprint!
- Kneel down while a partner/therapist holds your ankles.
- Then slowly lean forwards as far as they can under control using the hamstrings to resist the forward’s movement.
- A super-advanced version of this is to use the hamstrings to curl back up again.
Aerobic fitness & running progressions
Being injured doesn’t have to mean training stops. This step-by-step aerobic fitness program is to be used when recovering from hamstring strains. It is designed to be used in conjunction with a full hamstring strain rehab program consisting of healing, strengthening, and stretching exercises.
You only move onto the next stage if the current stage is comfortable and completed pain free. If at any time the exercises are painful then step back a stage or two.
Stage 1 (acute stage):
This is the painful stage immediately after injury. Rest! When daily activities such as walking upstairs, and getting in and out of a car are pain-free then you are ready to move on to the next stage.
Use a rowing machine if pain allows. Row at a steady pace and low resistance for 5 minutes upwards. A time of 20 minutes a day should be enough to help maintain fitness.
You may find it easier to break this into 5 or 10 minutes intervals with a couple of minutes of walk recovery to monitor the effect on the hamstring muscle.
Stationary cycling. Use an exercise bike in the gym or at home as long as it is pain-free.
Arm only swimming.
Step machine in the gym.
Cross Trainer in the gym or at home.
Slow jogging – up to 2 x 10 minutes with a short rest in between. Move on when the above is pain-free and pain-free the next day.
Slow jogging – up to 25mins continuous. Move on when pain-free and pain-free the next day.
Half-pace running. 6 x 50m strides. Move on when pain-free and pain-free the next day.
30s 100m shuttles (3 x 6mins) with short rest.
27s 100m shuttles (3 x 6mins) with short rest.
24s 100m shuttles (3 x 5 minutes) with longer rest.
20s 100m shuttles (3 x 4 mins) with longer rest as required.
Stage 11: (final stage): Sprints – 8 x 50m sprints (twice). Ensure pain-free during and after.