Want great-looking legs?  Work your hamstrings

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Want great-looking legs?  Work your hamstrings

A forgotten part of our legs not to be ignored is the hamstrings. Located on the backside of the upper legs – between where the knees bend and our buttocks - maybe it’s because this muscle group is out of sight that makes it out of mind. But to keep them strong and healthy, they need our attention.  Healthy hamstrings are not to be taken for granted. To maintain a youthful physique and legs, our hamstrings require regular workouts. When hamstrings are given low priority status in our workouts, undeveloped hamstrings are often what give away the telltale old age look of sagging skin and weakness in the legs. 

Every day, each one of us should take time to stretch all major muscles in our body.  When we stretch, we are promoting healthy blood flow keeping the muscles nourished leading to optimal function and a lower risk of injury.  However, when you are pressed for time and had to choose only a couple of major muscle groups to focus on, always choose to stretch your hamstrings. Having strong, stretched hamstrings will improve your health the most when they are taken care of.

Getting to know your hamstrings

To understand the importance of daily stretching of the hamstrings, it’s important to be familiar with the anatomy of them.  Your hamstrings are comprised of three posterior thigh muscles at the back of the upper legs in between the hip and knee. In order to bend and straighten your legs or to be active in sports, you need strong, flexible hamstrings.  People who are sedentary will end up developing weak or tight hamstrings.

The three muscles of the anatomy of your hamstrings originate or attach on the ischial tuberosities (sit bones) and run down the backs of your thighs.  There are two hamstrings in each medial thigh (the inner back side) and one in each lateral (outer) thigh.  All three attach by long tendons crossing the back of the knee to the lower leg. Each of these are biarticular, meaning they connect and affect the function of two joints – the hip and knees.  Your hamstrings work to flex (bend) your knees, extend (straighten) your hips, and posteriorly tilt your pelvis.

The benefits of having healthy, strong hamstrings

To remain active and able to do basic daily living activities, daily stretching of our hamstrings is necessary.  Hamstring exercises ensure that these muscles remain flexible and strong, which in turn helps the legs, knees, back, and hips function smoothly. 

Here are important benefits having strong hamstrings provide:

·      Relief from back pain

Since the hamstring muscles are connected to the bones at the bottom of the lower pelvis, if they become tight from lack of stretching, they can cause stress on your lower back causing pain.  If we sit too much all day long with not much movement, your pelvis becomes inflexible due to limited mobility – this can contribute to poor posture and additional stress across the lower back.  Exercises for the hamstrings helps to lengthen the muscles reducing back pain.

·      Leg strength is improved

If you want strong, good-looking legs, you must have healthy, flexible hamstrings.  The hamstrings are vital for knee extension and flexibility.  It’s when our hamstrings get weak that our legs could become so weak making it difficult to do simple tasks such as rising from a chair or climbing stairs.  Even professional athletes can get themselves in trouble if they forget to work their hamstrings.  Many runners have strong calves and quadriceps but weak hamstrings.  Weak hamstrings mean they have to work harder while strong hamstrings help increase the speed of runners, cyclists, swimmers, and other athletes competing in sports requiring speed.

·      Improves flexibility

When we stretch our hamstrings, this increases the flow of blood to those muscles improving your flexibility.  Having a regular routine of stretching in the morning and again before bedtime is an ideal way of lengthening and loosening up your hamstrings.  Flexibility in the hamstrings means your ability to move with ease is enhanced, you can participate in a wide variety of sports, and it can even give you more energy.

·      Reduced risk of sciatica

A contributing factor to sciatica can be tight hamstrings.  Sciatica is a nerve pain caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve.  One of the main symptoms is constant pain in one side of the body that originates in the lower back or buttock and continues down the leg that can take weeks or months to go away.  By performing hamstring exercises, this can help lengthen and loosen back muscles, relieving nerve compression that causes sciatica pain and alleviating discomfort. 

·      Protects against injuries

Since the hamstrings cover both the knee and hip joints, they are at high risk for muscle injuries. Weak, tight hamstrings are especially vulnerable to strain and may tear if stretched beyond their limit.  Anyone engaging in sports or high-speed activities such as soccer, football, running, tennis, or basketball, should daily have a routine of exercises to keep the hamstring strong and flexible. 

How to build stronger and more flexible hamstrings

Probably one of the reasons why so many of us develop weak hamstrings is because they are out of our sight.  We can easily see our thighs, arms or abdomen, but our hamstrings can be overlooked and forgotten. 

To change that, below are two links to good videos getting you started on taking your hamstrings from weak and inflexible to strong and dynamic.  Not only will these exercises help your hamstrings become healthier, but they will also improve the way the back of your legs look.  Make these routines a regular part of each day and watch your hamstrings improve significantly.

*3 easy and effective hamstring stretches by Bowflex

*At home hamstring workout by Fitness Blender