Leg strength for runners: Part 2. Strong Hamstrings

Do your hamstrings feel tight? Have you recently injured your hamstrings or have an old injury that just keeps reoccurring? 

Whether you struggle with your hamstrings while running or not, it’s good to know how they operate and how you can use them effectively when running. 

What is the role of the hamstrings when running?

The hamstrings are designed to control the deceleration of a stride and help to decrease the impact from the ground when we run. If the hamstrings are not conditioned for running or running type sports, the muscle may become tight, weak or painful. Which may result in an injury and unwanted time off running. 

There are three muscles that make up the hamstrings and they all assist in bending the knee and as said above, helping with deceleration during running. They attach from the sit bone in our pelvis and reach all the way down to our tibia and fibula in the lower limb. They are powerful endurance muscles, therefore making sure they are strong is important to be able to use them effectively.

Should you be stretching or strengthening hamstrings?

Of course, both! But we are just going to focus on strengthening for now.

Until recently, stretching was always the focus when trying to “exercise” the hamstrings. They were thought of as the muscles that just need to be stretched, and strengthening was never a focus in running and running type sports. However, times have changed. Recent studies have shown that having strong hamstrings can help prevent tears, strains and sprains. Strengthening can also alleviate that feeling of tightness that you may be experiencing.

And that’s exactly what we go by at Beyond Physiotherapy. 

By strengthening the hamstrings in its lengthened position, we can future proof the hamstrings and prevent injury for those who run (or who play any sport for that matter). In other words, by strengthening the hamstrings in a similar way they are used, such as during a stride and during deceleration, they can become conditioned within that range and be strong enough to prevent injury.

Strength based exercises

Here are some easy ways to improve the strength and condition of your hamstrings.

Single Leg deadlifts

  1. The hamstring you’re working is the side of the same leg you are standing on. Keep this knee soft.
  2. As you lower the weight towards your foot, lift the back leg keeping it as straight as possible. 
  3. Remember to keep hips square.
  4. Start with a medium weight, and do 3 rounds of 8 reps each side.
  5. As strength starts to improve, you can up the weight and reps if desired.

Swiss ball curls

  1. Place two feet on the swiss ball.
  2. Keeping shoulders on the ground, lift your hips.
  3. Curl the ball towards you, keeping your hips high and level.
  4. Start with 3 rounds of 6 reps slowly and increasing to 3 rounds of 10.

Donkey kicks

  1. Get into a four point kneeling position
  2. Place a suitable ball between hamstring and calf (weighted is best!)
  3. Keeping shoulders and hips level, lift the knee until it comes in line with the shoulder.
  4. Complete 2 rounds of 10 reps, on each side.

Nordic hamstring curls

  1. Kneel while securing your heels under something solid/ or get a partner to hold your heels down.
  2. Place hands on Swiss ball and walk hands away
  3. Rolling Swiss ball away with hands and controlling using your hamstrings
  4. Repeat slowly 6 times, of 4 rounds.
  5. To make it harder you can decrease the amount of weight you place through your hands

By introducing these exercises to strengthen (and lengthen) your hamstrings, you’ll be putting them at less risk to injury. You’ll also find that they won’t tire as easily on runs, leaving you to run effectively and efficiently.

Next, we will be talking about glute strength for runners. Then you’ll have the whole package!