What Are the Benefits of Hamstring Exercises?

A man stretching his hamstring while sitting

Three muscles comprise the hamstrings at the back of the upper legs. They bend and straighten the legs. If you're sedentary, you may have weak or tight hamstrings. If you are active and engage in sports, you need strong and flexible hamstrings for optimum performance. Hamstring exercises ensure that these muscles remain flexible and strong, which in turn helps the legs, knees, back and hips function smoothly. Beneficial hamstring exercises include stretches, squats, lunges and leg curls.

Protection from Injuries

The hamstrings are at high risk for muscle injuries because they cover both the knee and hip joints. If your hamstrings are weak and tight, they're vulnerable to strain and may tear during exercise. Hamstring injuries usually occur when the muscles are stretched beyond their limit. If you engage in sports or high-speed activities, such as football, basketball, running, soccer and tennis, you should have a daily routine of exercises to keep the hamstrings strong and flexible, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends. Warm up with dynamic hamstring stretches before working out, which will reduce stiffness and increase your range of motion.

Back Pain Relief

The hamstring muscles are connected to the bones at the bottom of the lower pelvis. If the hamstring muscles are too tight, they can cause stress on your lower back and adversely affect your spine, causing pain. Your pelvis may become locked with limited mobility, which contributes to poor posture and more stress across your lower back. Hamstring exercises help lengthen the muscles and reduce back pain.

Improved Leg Strength

Strong legs require healthy, flexible hamstrings. The hamstrings are vital for knee extension and flexibility. Without hamstring strength, the legs may eventually become so weak it becomes difficult to perform simple tasks, such as rising from a chair and climbing stairs. In a January 2007 article in "Runner's World," physical therapist and coach Mark Plaatjes notes that many of the runners that visit his clinic run into problems because they have strong calves and quads but weak hamstrings. The weaker the hamstrings are, the harder those muscles have to work. Strong hamstrings help increase the speed of runners, cyclists, swimmers and others who participate in high-speed sports.

Greater Flexibility

Stretching your hamstrings increases blood flow to those muscles and improves your flexibility. Develop a regular routine of stretching in the morning and again before turning in for the night. Over time, these exercises will increase the length of the hamstrings and loosen them up. With greater muscle flexibility, your ability to move will increase, you'll have higher energy levels, and be able to participate in a wide variety of sports and exercise with more ease and less risk of injury.

Decreased Risk of Sciatica

Many sciatica symptoms will dissipate after a consistent routine of hamstring exercises and stretching. Sciatica symptoms may include leg pain, tingling, weakness and numbness that originates in the lower back and travels down the sciatic nerve behind the leg. Tight hamstrings often cause back pain and may be a contributing factor to sciatica. The online site Spine-Health asserts that hamstring exercises can help lengthen and loosen back muscles, relieving nerve compression that causes sciatica pain and alleviating discomfort.