Hamstring strain exercises are an important for recovering from hamstring injuries. Here we demonstrate and explain hamstring stretches, isometric strengthening, dynamic strengthening and functional or sports specific exercises.
For information purposes only. We recommend seeking professional advice.
Hamstring stretching exercises
During the acute stage immediately following a hamstring strain injury no stretching should be done at all, only rest.
How long this stage lasts for will depend on the severity or what grade the injury is but 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 stretch
The aim here is to get a little bit of elasticity to the healing tissue, not increase flexibility. 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 relaxing into the stretch. Aim to stretch forward from the hip rather than the shoulders.
- A gentle stretch should be felt at the back of the leg but it should not be painful.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 seconds once or twice a day.
Bent leg hamstring stretch
Bent leg hamstring stretch on the back targets the muscle fibres closer to the hip whereas the straight leg hamstring stretch targets the fibres nearer the knee.
- Lie on your back and pull the leg over keeping the knee very slightly bent until a gentle stretch is felt at the back of the leg.
- Again this should not be painful.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 seconds once or twice a day.
Dynamic hamstring stretching exercises
Dynamic stretching involves movement. This type of stretching is more sports specific and uses the muscle’s natural sensors (muscle spindles) to stretch the muscles.
Dynamic exercises include:
- Active straight leg raise
- Cycling upside down
- Dynamic walks.
Perform 3 x 10 reps gently swinging the straight leg as high as is comfortable. Do not force, or try to ‘bounce’ into the stretches. Let the muscles go through their natural range of motion.
Hamstring strengthening exercises
Below are a number of progressively more difficult hamstring exercises. They should always be done pain-free. Where you start and how fast you progress will depend 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
- 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.
- Chane the amount your knee is bent to work the muscle at different lengths.
- Once a range of angles have been worked, repeat the exercises with your foot turned outwards and again with your foot turned inwards.
- This exercise targets the inner and outer hamstring muscles at varying angles of flexion or knee bend.
Standing knee flexion
- Stand on one leg and bend the other one using just gravity as resistance.
- This can be done 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, this exercise can be performed more explosively.
The leg is allowed to fall and the hamstring muscle catches the leg before it falls to the 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 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. An ankle weight can be used to increase the load on the muscle.
Remember, 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.
- 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, contracting the hamstring muscle to do so.
- 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 also works the hamstring muscles in a similar position as they are in 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 hamstring exercise works the muscles in a very stretched position, particularly the muscle fibers nearer the buttocks.
- Places one foot in front of the other and bend down to pick up a medicine ball.
- Repeat the movement to put the ball back down.
- Repeat this 5 to 10 times.
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.
Another deceptively difficult exercise that looks easy. 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 fibers 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 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, getting in and out of a car are pain-free then you are ready to move onto the next stage.
- Stage 2: 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 walk recovery to monitor the effect on the hamstring muscle.
- Stage 3: Stationary cycling
- Stage 4: Arm only swimming
- Stage 5: Stepper
- Stage 6: Cross Trainer
- Stage 7: 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.
- Stage 8: Slow jogging – up to 25mins continuous. Move on when pain-free and pain-free the next day.
- Stage 9: Half pace running. 6 x 50m strides. Move on when pain-free and pain-free the next day.
- Stage 10
- 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.