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Tight Hamstrings? Pilates To the Rescue!

Sherry Granader

Passionate about teaching Reformer and Mat Pilates, Sherry is certified through Balanced Body® University with 30 years of teaching a variety of fitness classes including yoga, cardio, and STEP.
Young asian girl doing kick backs on yoga mat
Kick Backs

 As a Pilates instructor, one of the most common complaints I hear from my clients are tight hamstrings. While they make an effort to stretch them out using basic hamstring stretches, it doesn’t appear to last. The good news is that Pilates can improve overall mobility because the exercises in Pilates utilize the entire body.  

  • Tight hip joint
  • Injuries to the low back or back problems, in general
  • Irritated Sciatic nerve
  • Old injuries from younger years
  • Alignment of the pelvis
  • Underactive gluteus maximus muscles
Girl doing pilats teaser at sunset

When your hamstrings are tight, your posture gets out of alignment, movements are restricted, and that can lead to low back pain. Add running, dancing, bending over, sitting for too long, and playing sports of all kinds to the mix, and you can understand how hamstrings can become weak or tight. The good news is that there are specific Pilates exercises that can help lengthen and strengthen your hamstrings.


 We can thank Joseph Pilates for insisting that all exercises begin with the “Powerhouse,” the area between the pelvic bones and the bottom of the ribs. By pulling your abdominal muscles in toward your spine, using the upper and lower abdominal muscles, the “powerhouse” contraction allows you to perform exercises such as the hamstring curl or hamstring pull, with focus and safety.


If you are fortunate enough to have a Pilates studio in your area or can enjoy your own Pilates equipment at home, then you can address those tight hamstrings on the reformer. For example, a rounded stretch known as The Elephant, can stretch both your hamstrings and calf muscles while strengthening your hips and working your powerhouse. Lying on your back on the carriage of a Reformer with your “feet in the straps” will allow you to lengthen your hamstrings while keeping your back and hips down with your abdominal muscles pulled in for support.

Five women in a row working out on a pilates reformer
Five Women on a Pilates Reformer

In order to make this an effective stretch for your hamstrings, flex your feet during the stretch by pressing your heels toward the ceiling which will activate your hamstrings in the back of your legs. While in this position, make sure you keep your back and hips on the reformer as you straighten the legs in a 90-degree angle. You can also alternate between pointing your toes to lessen the stretch and flexing your feet to intensify the stretch.


 If you have a Pilates Chair, you can stretch your calves, hamstrings, and Achilles tendons while strengthening your abdominal muscles using different springs to strengthen and lengthen the hamstrings.


 The easiest way to try Pilates at home is on a mat using some beginner exercises that can help release tight hamstrings while strengthening them. For example, Roll-Ups strengthen the Powerhouse and stretch your hamstrings by beginning with your head, torso, with feet flat on your mat, arms to your side, and progress through an articulated roll-up as the arms stretch forward, curving your body over your legs and the legs straighten to the floor, keeping the toes pointed.

It is best to learn exercises by taking a Reformer Pilates class on equipment or a Mat Pilates with a qualified, nationally certified instructor who can teach you proper form and alignment with appropriate variations, when needed. The more skilled you become, the faster you can learn more advanced movements that will allow you to strengthen and lengthen your hamstrings. 

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