Freeing Tight Hamstrings

To free tight hamstrings, it’s important to understand their four movement functions.

  1. leg extension at the hip joint
  2. leg flexion at the knee
  3. rotation of the lower leg at the knee joint
  4. stabilization of the pelvis when bending forward

To free hamstrings, we must free them (gain control of tension and relaxation) in all four movement functions.

If we do not gain (or improve) control in all four movement functions, one or more of those movement habits will dominate control of the other movement(s).

In addition, the hamstrings of one leg work alternately with those of the other — as in walking; when the hamstrings of one leg are bending or stabilizing the knee, the hamstrings of the other leg are extending or stabilizing the other leg at the hip.   In those movements, the hamstrings coordinate with the hip flexors and psoas muscles.  (Co-contraction of hamstrings and hip flexors/psoas muscles leads to hip joint and ilio-sacral (SI) joint compression.)  So our approach (being movement-based) must take those relationships into account.  Otherwise, we never develop the feeling of free hamstrings in their familiar movements.

That’s the “leg backward” movement of walking.  The hamstrings are aided by the gluteal (butt) muscles, but only in a stabilizing capacity.  The major work is done by the hamstrings.  In this movement, the hamstrings, inner and outer, work together in tandem.

That’s the “getting ready to kick” movement and also the “pawing the ground” movement.  In these movements, the hamstrings, inner and outer, also work together in tandem (same movement).

To the anatomist and kinesiologist, it may seem incomprehensible (“paradoxical”) that the hamstrings are involved in both movements — leg forward and leg backward — but that’s how it is.   Though the hamstrings are involved in both cases, different movements cause a different feel.

That’s the turning movement used in skating and in turning a corner.  In this movement, the inner hamstrings (semi-membranosis and semi-tendinosis) relax and lengthen as the outer hamstring (biceps femoris) tighten to turn toes-out and the inner hamstrings tighten to turn toes-in as the outer hamstring relaxes and lengthens.

The hamstrings anchor the pelvis at the sitbones (ischial tuberosities) deep to the ‘smile’ creases beneath the buttocks (not the crack), so one can bend forward in a controlled way, instead of flopping forward at the hips like a marionette.  In this movement, the hamstrings coordinate with the front belly muscles (rectus abdominis).

In most people, either the rectus or hamstrings dominates the other in a chronic state of excessive tension, so freeing and coordinating the hamstrings involves coordinating and matching the efforts of the two muscle groups.  When the hamstrings dominate, we see swayback; when the rectus muscles dominate, we see flat ribs.

In training hamstring control, it’s convenient to start with the less complicated movement, first.  That’s the anchoring movement that stabilizes bowing in a standing position.  (See first video, above.)

After we cultivate control of “in tandem” hamstring movements, we cultivate control of “alternating” hamstring movements.  (See second video, above.)

By cultivating control of “in tandem” and “alternating” movements, we fulfill the requirements of functions (1.), (2.), and (4.).  The exercise linked in the paragraph above indirectly addresses function (3.) (lower leg rotation at the knee).  Other exercises that have this effect exist in the somatic exercise programs, “The Cat Stretch” and “Free Your Psoas”, for which previews exist through the preceding links.

Add your comment — what you would like to ask or tell.
This entry was posted in free somatic exercises, hamstring stretches, hanna somatic education, knee pain, somatic exercises, tight hamstrings. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Freeing Tight Hamstrings

  1. Amanda says:

    As usual fantastic article. This is timely because I've been working on my hamstrings and figured out both exercises are needed.

  2. fitmotif says:

    Mr. Gold,
    I had lower back pain for almost 2 years and through and Osteopath, I was able to have some relief. However, before my relocation we were able to identify that my fibia and tibia bones are actually torquing due to my right hip being pulled out of place. Now, I have this intense pain in my right hip flexor to the point where it feels like I`m stepping on a sharpe bladed sword. I have not been able to make an appointment to see a doctor yet, but it hurts. Your advise is well appreciated.

  3. LawrenceGold says:


    I wasn't ignoring you; it's that I'm too busy to check comments very often.

    The program you need is Free Your Psoas (


    preview program:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.