Although the hamstrings are best known for their role in flexing the knee, you might be surprised to learn they do much more. The hamstrings originate at the ischial tuberosity (that’s the bony protrusion that you can feel on your buttocks commonly referred to as the “sits bones”). Part of the hamstrings run along the back of your thigh, wrap around the inside of your knee and attach to the tibia (the “shinbone”). The other part goes along the back of the thigh but wraps around the outside of the knee attaching to the fibula.
Because of this orientation, the role of the hamstrings goes beyond knee bending. The 3-dimensional nature means the hamstring is involved in front to back as well as lateral and rotational movement of the knee, hip and even the back and foot! Learn more about how the hamstring really works in this video by the Gray Institute.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you may be more likely to injure the hamstrings under the following conditions:
- Sports participation: Running or other activities that might require extreme stretching.
- Prior hamstring injury: Especially if you try to resume activities too soon.
- Poor flexibility: Muscles may not be able to bear the full force of the action.
- Muscle imbalance
Popular Exercises for Hamstrings
If you Google, “exercises for hamstrings,” the most frequent recommendations include:
- Dead lifts
- Hamstring curls
- Forward bending for flexibility
What do all of these exercises have in common?
That’s right! They move the body front to back. But what about the other fibers? Muscles are 3-dimensional and therefore must be moved in all 6 directions. Whether you are rehabbing an injury, training for better fitness or looking to reduce pain, this approach will get better training results.
5 Pool Exercises for Hamstrings
All you need is a pool and a noodle for these hamstring exercises. Each exercise uses a 3-dimensional approach to target all 3 hamstrings as they relate the rest of the body.
1. 3D Knee Swing
With the knee bent slowly, swing the leg front to back, right to left and finish with right and left rotation. This is a “top down” exercise. What that means is that we’re moving the suspended leg to target the hamstring on the standing leg (top of the muscle down). The functional significance is that this approach mirrors how the muscle works when we walk.
2. Calf Stretch
This exercise got its name for quick recognition, but benefits the entire leg and is a wonderful way to stretch tight hamstrings. Similar to the first exercise, this is also a top down exercise as we are stretching the standing leg by reaching the suspended foot in 6 directions. Key to this move is to maintain a slight bend in the standing leg with the heel on the floor. Move nice and slow.
3. Leg Curl Jog
This is where you pick up your noodle. Jogging with alternating heel lifts behind the body. With lowered stress on the joints, this exercise helps target hamstring strength while adding some core work. This is a “bottom up” exercise as the feet initiate the movement and therefore target the hamstrings from the bottom to the top.
4. Two Hand Reach
This stretch feels incredible, digging deep into the often missed lateral and rotational muscle fibers. For this one, be in a wide lunge holding the noodle with two hands. Begin with an overhead reach side to side. Knees are soft and moving nice and slow. Feel the soothing stretch extend from your hips through your entire body! Next, at the surface, reach the noodle to the front corner opposite the forward leg. This integrates stretching of the sagittal (front to back) and frontal (side to side) hamstrings. Last, but definitely not least, add rotation. At the surface, reach the noodle over the lead leg.
5. Leg Press
This exercise is one of my favorites. You’ll see two different variations in the video demonstration. The first focuses on flexibility by using the noodle under the front leg during the leg press in all 6 directions. The second emphasizes strength with the noodle at the surface and the leg pressing against the resistance of the water.
Watch the video on YouTube for a visual demonstration of all of these exercises.
These moves are inspired by my Movements for Knees & Hips water exercise DVD, a 30 minute water workout that includes a bonus 8 minute land routine (BUY below).
Want to take it a step further? Feel your way to better results with my WECOACH membership. Access a growing library of video and audio pool workouts, plus NEW video tips each month to help keep you safe and progressing.