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Best Exercises for a Pulled Hamstring

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT October 06, 2020 0 Comments

A strained hamstring muscle tear can make it feel awkward or painful to do your normal activities. Finding pulled hamstring exercises that help restore your strength and comfort level with weight-bearing movements like walking are crucial. The key is to start small and build from there. Keep reading to learn about some of the best pulled hamstring exercises.

Hamstring Strengthening Exercises

Hamstring exercises are about so much more than just restoring hamstring muscle fibers. The original injury is most likely due to some muscle imbalances that need to be restored. Thus, the focus with a hamstring strain program will be on properly coordinating all the major muscle groups in the leg, as illustrated by our video on exercises for a pulled hamstring. The hips, quadriceps, and core all play an important role.

Mini-Squat With Loop Band

Grab a loop resistance band and place it around your thighs just above the knees. Keep good posture in the upper body as you bring the trunk slightly forward and bend each knee joint. Have your feet about hip-width apart and flat on the floor. Keep the knees aligned over the top of the toes and a relatively flat back as you squat and bring your butt closer to the floor. You should feel this in the thighs and butt and back of your thigh.

Repeat 15-20 times for 2-3 sets. Go deeper as tolerated if you can keep good form. 

Alternating Side-Kick

Keep your band around your legs but move it lower to about mid-calf to work the outside of the hips. Standing with the feet about hip-width apart, kick one leg out to the side and return it to the ground before repeating the move on the other side. The move should be subtle, do not lean to the side and keep your pelvis level through the move. Continue alternating while keeping the move slow and controlled until you feel a burn in the hips.

Repeat 10-15 times on each leg for 2-3 sets total.

Alternating Mini Backward Lunge

Keep the band around your calves for this one too. Hinge forward just slightly in the hips and keep a bend in the knees as you step one foot back behind you into a mini lunge. Hold the position for an extra beat before returning your foot to the starting position and repeating with the opposite foot. Focus on squeezing the glutes as you bring each foot back.

Alternate 10-15 times for 2-3 total sets.

Double Leg Deadlift

Grab a medium-level resistance band. Step on the band with your feet while keeping your feet hip-width apart and hold the loose ends in each hand. Then, ensure you are keeping good posture as you hinge forward at the hips. Go slow and controlled as you bend forward as far as is comfortable for your hamstrings and back. Then, return to the starting position with control as well.

Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets. Increase band resistance as tolerated.

Core Exercises

The hamstrings connect into the bottom of the pelvis. Balance of the muscle fibers within the pelvis is important for using the entire core with coordination and stability. Thus, core exercises are always a great idea when rehabbing the hamstrings. In fact, a hamstring injury can lead to low back pain if the core isn’t properly addressed during the recovery process.

Double Knee to Chest

Lie on your back with both feet flat on the floor to start. Tighten your abs and pull your belly button toward your spine. There should be minimal arching in your low back. Then, lift both feet off the ground as you bring your knees closer to your chest. Bring your knees to hip level, or slightly beyond, before returning your feet to the ground. As you lift and return to the starting position, you should be able to keep your low back flat against the floor.

Repeat for 15-20 repetitions for 2-3 sets total.

Plank

Start by getting on your hand and knees. Then, bring your forearms down to the floor. Keep your elbows directly under your shoulders with the forearms parallel to each other and shoulder-width apart. Next, bring your knees back so that you can create a straight line from your head to your knees while keeping your abs tight. This means the butt should be down and in line with the body, not popping up toward the ceiling or sagging toward the ground.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets total. 

Ball Plank With Single Leg Raise

There are a lot of ways that you can modify or progress this exercise to fit your needs. This is a higher level option when you’re ready for it. Grab an exercise ball and set yourself up in a full plank just as described in the exercise above, except this time your forearms are resting on the ball. Push your arms firmly into the ball to activate the upper body and core. Then, while maintaining good alignment lift one foot 2-3 inches off the ground. Repeat with the other foot and continue alternating.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets total. If this is too hard, start on the floor without a ball and progress from there.

Exercise Ball Bridge

Lie on the ball with your upper back and shoulders resting on the ball, feet flat on the floor and about hip-width apart. Your back should be relatively flat. Next, squeeze your butt as you lift the hips up as high as possible to make them parallel with your chest if possible. Then, slowly return to the starting position before repeating. If this is too challenging, start on the floor with a standard bridge.

Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets.

Benefits of Exercise for a Hamstring Injury

Having an exercise program in place is an important part of the recovery process for a pulled hamstring. Some of the benefits that you can expect from a consistent exercise program include:

  • Promote muscular balance in thigh muscles to minimize the risk of future injuries.
  • Quicker return to previous level of activities.
  • Reduce pain and promote healing for sports injuries.
  • A great adjunct to other home treatments like ice, heat, and foam rolling, to address muscle strain.
  • Quickly boost your confidence in your ability to return to activities or sports
  • Improve endurance, strength, and tolerance in the hamstring muscle group.

Tips Before Exercising

Here are a few great ways to optimize your exercise program:

  • If you are experiencing some pain or stiffness, consider warming the leg up with some heat therapy first.

  • Complete a hamstring stretching program for optimal results and an appropriate warm-up.

    Best Hamstring Stretches

  • If you are unsure of where to start, always consult your doctor or physical therapist first.

  • Utilize self-massage or tools to loosen up sore areas prior to or after exercise as well.

      How to Foam Roll Hamstrings

  • As you begin your exercise program, always tune into your symptoms and how you are feeling to minimize aggravation.

  • These exercises will all focus on both the non-injured and injured leg to prevent imbalances.

When to Consider Physical Therapy

To address hamstring issues head-on, the help of a movement expert like a physical therapist can help speed up recovery and prevent re-injury.

Physical therapy for a hamstring strain will involve 4-6 weeks of treatment. If surgery is required, this process can last for significantly longer. After an in-depth evaluation, you will work with your physical therapist to develop good pain management techniques, promote tissue health and healing, and create a home rehabilitation program that promotes muscle coordination and flexibility.

When and How Often to Exercise a Pulled Hamstring

The frequency and duration of exercise for your hamstring will vary throughout the recovery process. Initially, it’s always a good idea to start with a small amount of time and high frequency (almost every day for 10-30 minutes). Then, as healing progresses you can work toward high-level exercise and start decreasing your frequency to a few times per week.

Ultimately, what works for you will depend on your activity level, goals, your current level of health, and more.

Staying Safe While Exercising a Hamstring Pull

A good exercise program with stretching exercises for the hamstrings will focus on building lasting balance in the core, lower legs, and knee joint. Understanding how to promote optimal muscle coordination is crucial for helping you get back to what you love to do after a muscle tear. Follow-up with your doctor or physiotherapist if you experience a sudden change in symptoms or function, or you aren’t making progress as you expected.

Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/hamstring-strain

https://www.bsrphysicaltherapy.com/2019/09/29/hamstring-strains-exercises/

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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