If you sit at a desk, watch a lot of TV or have an aggressive anterior pelvic tilt (aka “Donald Duck butt”), your hamstrings are probably tight. And tight, shortened hamstrings not only make you susceptible to injury, they can also contribute to back pain. But you know who are athletic, powerful and have seriously stretchy ’strings? Football punters. You can’t even touch your toes, but these guys can kick like the Rockettes. “If I didn’t have hamstring flexibility, I’d be out of a job,” says New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford. “You’re always looking to increase distance and power on your punts. The fundamentals of that come down to strength and flexibility.” Here’s how Weatherford and four other punters at the professional and college level keep their hamstrings loose and limber while retaining their powerful legs.
1 STRETCH WHILE STANDING
One stretch New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford recommends is the classic standing right-over-left stretch. Science backs up this stretch too. In one Japanese study from 2013, subjects increased flexibility more with a standing stretch than with a comparable seated stretch for hamstring flexibility. HOW TO DO IT: Standing with your feet together, cross your right foot over your left foot and slowly lower your torso to your legs with your arms hanging, reaching your fingers towards your toes. Weatherford says he holds this position for at least 10 seconds on each leg before switching sides.
2 WORK YOUR GLUTES WITH YOUR HAMSTRINGS
Philadelphia Eagles punter Donnie Jones says he’s not the most flexible guy, but he uses hamstring exercises to help him open his hips, which gives him more power on his kicks. You’re using your hip flexor muscle to get power on the punt, Jones says. Improving the range of motion of his hip is important for that movement, he says, and not necessarily the fancy high-kick follow-through. “Once you impact the ball and your foot is gone, it doesn’t really help being able to get your leg really high.” To work on that hip drive with his hamstrings, Jones performs prone glute bridges. HOW TO DO IT: Lie faceup on the ground with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. From here, squeeze your glutes to thrust your hips to the sky. At the top of the move, your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to knees. Return to the start and repeat.
3 GET THAT LEG HIGH
Not all punters agree with Philadelphia Eagles punter Donnie Jones about the finish, though. Back in 2004, then-Carolina Panthers punter Todd Sauerbrun told “Sports Illustrated” that his leg kick was important and that he did this hamstring stretch to work on it. HOW TO DO IT: Find a shoulder-height machine (or lower if you’re less flexible), place your foot on the machine with your leg straight and pull your head toward your knee for 10 seconds or more.
4 PRACTICE PUNTER PILATES
“Finishing is more important for avoiding injury and for consistency,” says JK Scott, the freshman sensation punter for the University of Alabama. “You’re going to be stressing less to get the leg higher; it’s a much smoother stroke.” To get that high finish and maintain that flexibility while building hamstring strength, Scott has been doing Pilates since his junior year of high school. He uses the reformer machine, but his favorite exercise can be done with body weight: the lying leg raise. HOW TO DO IT: Lie faceup on your back with your legs extended, feet together. Raise your legs off the ground while keeping them straight, trying to bring your knees toward your face. Return to the start and repeat.
5 USE THE OLDEST STRETCH IN THE BOOK
Unlike University of Alabama punter JK Scott, Cameron Johnston didn’t come to college with a lot of hamstring flexibility. “When I first got here, I struggled to touch my toes,” says the Australian-born punter for national champion Ohio State. To increase his stretch, he lets the trainers at Ohio State take the lead. They’ve helped limber him with one of the oldest stretches in the book — a lying partner hamstring stretch. Pilates fan Scott also swears by this old standby. HOW TO DO IT: Lie faceup on the ground with your legs out straight. Have a partner put their shoulder under one leg and gently push that leg so your knee and foot go toward your head and chest. Scott has the trainers perform this stretch for two rounds of 45 seconds each.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you incorporate hamstring stretching and flexibility into your training regimen? What stretches do you rely on? Have you used any of the tips mentioned in the slideshow? How did they work for you? Do you do any other type of exercises or workouts to keep your legs limber and primed for action? Tell us below in the comments section!