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How To Stretch Your Hamstrings

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Flexibility isn't the preserve of athletes, yoga instructors and pilates practitioners. In fact it is a vital aspect of health for both young and old and can play a major role in increasing and prolonging bodily health.
What you'll need: 
Comfortable, loose fitting or stretchy clothing
Exercise mat/towel
Chair/bench/raised platform
The hamstrings are relatively weak when compared to the quadriceps at the front of the upper leg. The result of this can be an imbalance in the leg which increases the chances of injury. The sedentary, seated lifestyle of people in the modern world exacerbates this problem by shortening and reducing the flexibility of the hamstrings.
A stretching routine can go a long way to counteracting shortening and weakening of the hamstrings. It is however essential that the hamstrings be warm prior to stretching. Gentle heart-rate raising exercises such as light cycling or jogging are best for warming up the hamstrings.
Once warmed up, the hamstrings can be stretched in a variety of ways. It is important to recognise that 'hamstring' is a blanket term for a group of three muscles making a variety of stretches necessary in order to stretch all involved muscles.
The first and most basic of the hamstring stretches is a simple bent over stretch. This can be performed by straightening the legs and putting them together before leaning forward and attempting to touch your toes. The movement should be slow and steady and should be held in a position at which you can feel a good stretch. It may feel somewhat uncomfortable at first so ensure that you don't force the stretch.
Stretching on the floor is always good as it allows a large range of movement while eliminating the chances of injury introduced by gravity and balance. Numerous seated hamstring stretches can be performed and can include single and double leg versions of standing stretches.
For an excellent seated stretch extend one leg in front of you while tucking the other foot in as if sitting cross-legged. Maintaining a straight back, attempt to reach your toes. Hold the position for at least twenty seconds periodically releasing the stretch slightly before slowly extending the stretch further.
Stretching with the help of a partner can be particularly effective as they will be able to manipulate the muscles into stretches which might be impossible to perform individually. Take advantage of the presence of a partner by lying on your back with one leg locked and raised above the floor. Your partner should cradle your foot in their hands, gradually pushing it towards you. You should resist the stretch slightly before releasing and allowing your partner to deepen the stretch. Always perform this motion in a slow, controlled fashion, talking your partner through the amount of pressure to be applied.
Dynamic stretching is a more advanced stretching technique which should only be used when your muscles are already properly warmed up. This type of stretching should only be performed in a controlled fashion and with great care not to overextend. Standing up straight and holding onto a steady surface on one side, gradually begin swinging your leg backwards and forwards feeling the stretch at both points of extension. Perform twenty times before repeating the stretch on the other leg.
PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) is another more advanced stretching technique which involves stretching the leg as far as it will go and then pushing against an immovable object for ten seconds. Release the contraction before extending the stretch further.
A regular routine of a variety of hamstring stretches will ensure that the muscles retain their strength and flexibility.


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