Throwing your leg onto a barre is one way to stretch your hamstring, but you're cheating yourself out of a full stretch of the muscle, says Jennifer Green, owner of PhysioArts physical therapy clinic in New York City. "You might start stretching the back of the knee and feel it more in the ligaments there," says Green. "But you really want to feel the stretch in the middle of the back of your thigh."
Since ballet dancers ask a lot of their hamstrings, it's important to learn to stretch the area thoroughly and safely. The muscles' main role is to bend the knees (think fondu, passé, développé), but they also assist in extending the hip and eccentrically controlling hip flexion (like stabilizing your standing leg when you penché). Green offers these three stretches that target the muscles' entire range while protecting your knee joints.
Before Class: Lying Leg Press
1. Lie on your back with both legs in parallel and your left foot on the floor. Interlock your hands behind your right knee to protect the joint from hyperextension throughout this series.
Before Class: Bottoms Up
1. Stand in parallel with your feet slightly wider than your hips, and bend into a squat. Rest your elbows on your thighs to support the weight of your upper body. Keep a flat back with a slight forward tip of the pelvis to isolate the end of your hamstrings near the pelvis.