3 Yoga Poses to Strengthen the Hamstrings and Protect the Knees

Many people perceive their hamstrings as tight, often focusing on stretches to maintain back and knee health. While some degree of stretching is beneficial, hypermobility in the hamstring attachment can increase injury risk.

Engaging all leg muscles to avoid hyperextension is crucial, especially in sports like soccer, where the quadriceps often overshadow the hamstrings. Here are three yoga poses that will keep your hamstrings engaged, even during stretching, and help protect your knees.

3 Yoga Poses to Strengthen the Hamstrings and Protect the Knees from Elevate Fitness Gyms in Syracuse, NY

Triangle Pose with Arms Extended

Contraindications: Weak abdominals, pregnancy, low back injury. Modify for these conditions by stopping at step seven.

Instructions:

  1. Start in a wide-leg stance with your feet slightly narrower than your wingspan.
  2. Turn your right toes forward and angle your left toes in about 45 to 60 degrees.
  3. Reach your right arm forward over your right leg, allowing the hips to hinge back slightly, keeping the right leg as straight as possible without locking the knee.
  4. Place your right hand on your right shin, pressing the shin back into the hand.
  5. Sweep your left arm over your ear, palm facing down.
  6. Press down through your right big toe, engaging the entire calf and lifting the hamstring and quadriceps as if you are lifting the kneecap.
  7. Engage and lift through the right rib cage.
  8. Once you feel stable, lift your right arm to meet the left, as if holding a beach ball between your hands.
  9. Hold this position, engaging the legs, core, and lifting the right side of the body, for about five long breaths.
  10. Release back to the initial triangle position and engage the legs to lift up.
  11. Switch sides and repeat.

Pyramid Pose with Arms in Airplane

Contraindications: Weak abdominals, pregnancy, low back injury. Modify for these conditions by leaving the hands on the blocks.

Instructions:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and place a yoga block outside each foot.
  2. Step your left leg back about three to four feet, keeping the hips-width distance between your feet, and turn your left toes out slightly to ground the left heel and the outside of the foot.
  3. Place your hands on your hips and square your hips and chest forward.
  4. Lengthen through the sides of your body, then hinge forward at the hips, keeping the right leg as straight as possible without locking the knee.
  5. Pause halfway down, extend the spine, and lower your hands to the blocks.
  6. Press down through your right big toe, engaging the entire calf and lifting the hamstring and quadriceps.
  7. Engage your belly and lower back to lift your trunk away from your front thigh, maintaining a half-fold and lengthening the spine.
  8. Press down through your right big toe, engage all the muscles in the right leg, and sweep your arms back like airplane wings.
  9. Hold here, keeping the right leg engaged and the outer left heel grounded, for about five to ten long breaths.
  10. Release the hands to the blocks and engage the legs to lift up.
  11. Switch sides and repeat.

Bow Pose

Contraindications: Pregnancy, surgery to internal organs. Avoid this pose altogether in these conditions.

Instructions:

  1. Lie on your belly with your chin neutral.
  2. Bend your knees, keeping them no wider than your hips, and reach back to grab your ankles or the outsides of your feet. If you cannot reach, interlace your hands behind your back and keep your legs straight for Shalabhasana (Yogi Superman).
  3. Kick your feet into your hands to lift your chest away from the mat.
  4. If you have a sensitive lower back, keep your quadriceps grounded. Otherwise, lift your legs as they kick into your hands.
  5. Once fully into the backbend, try to relax your glutes and allow your hamstrings to become the primary movers. This should release some tension in your lower back.
  6. Hold up to thirty breaths, rising slightly on each inhale and softening on each exhale.
  7. Release slowly back down to the belly, letting go of your legs.
  8. Repeat up to five rounds, avoiding stretches in between.
  9. After completing the posture, roll onto your back. Instead of bringing your knees to your chest, take a twist by letting both knees fall to the right for several breaths, then to the left for several breaths.
  10. Follow with a hamstring or hip stretch to fully release the lower back.

Conclusion

Incorporating these yoga poses into your routine can help strengthen the hamstrings and protect the knees by promoting balanced muscle engagement.

In Triangle and Pyramid poses, you learn to use the hamstrings to keep the back of the knee soft. In Bow Pose, prioritizing the hamstrings over the glutes as primary movers allows the lower back to release more effectively, giving the functionally weaker muscle group a chance to strengthen.

Active backbends, where the body works hard to sustain the pose, should also be part of your strength regimen to help prioritize hamstring engagement over the glutes. This will enhance overall stability and strength, protecting your knees and improving your athletic performance.

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