Upgrade your running: Hamstring exercises for runners

Running is a physically demanding activity that requires strength and endurance from the entire body, including your legs. The hamstrings are made up of three muscles that run along the back of the thigh, extend the hip and flex the knee, playing a vital role in running mechanics.

However, many runners neglect their hamstrings in their training routine, leading to muscle imbalances and compensations that can result in pain and injury. 

Strong hamstrings are crucial for runners. They help to improve running form and provide for more powerful and efficient strides while also reducing the risk of common running injuries such as strains, pulls and tears

Anatomy of the hamstring muscles

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located at the back of your thigh: 

Biceps femoris: the largest of the three muscles and is located on the outer side of the back of the thigh. The function of this hamstring is to flex your knee, extend the thigh at your hip and rotate your lower leg from side to side when your knee is bent.

Semimembranosus: It is closest to the middle of your body. It flexes your knee joint and extends your thigh at your hip. 

Semitendinosus: It is located between the semimembranous and the biceps femoris.

5 benefits of strong hamstrings for runners

  1. Improved running form and efficiency: Strong hamstrings are crucial in generating and transferring force during running. When the hamstrings are strong, they can better extend the hip and flex the knee, resulting in more powerful and efficient strides. This means that runners with strong hamstrings can run faster and longer with less effort.
  2. Reduced risk of hamstring injury: Hamstring strains, pulls and tears are common running injuries that can be painful and require significant time off from training. However, by regularly incorporating hamstring exercises into strength training, runners can strengthen their hamstrings and reduce the risk of hamstring injuries.
  3. Reduced muscle imbalances and compensations: Weak or tight hamstrings can cause imbalances and compensations in other parts of the body, such as the lower back, hips and knees. 
  4. Enhanced athletic performance: Strong hamstrings can help runners perform better in other sports and activities that require dynamic movements, such as sprints and jumps. 
  5. Improved functional activities: Strong hamstrings can also help with daily activities such as walking, climbing stairs and carrying groceries. 

Hamstring exercises for runners

Single-leg deadlift

single leg deadlift
woman in blue tank top and leggings doing single leg deadlift which is a great hamstring exercise for runners
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and parallel. Hold a dumbbell in each of your hands down in front of you.
  • Lean forward in your hips, shifting your weight onto one leg while your other leg engages and starts to extend straight behind you.
  • Lift your extended leg and pitch your body forward until your body forms a “T” shape.
  • Your arms should be hanging straight down, holding onto the weight.
  • Keep a slight bend in your standing leg.
  • Slowly bring in your extended leg and return to starting position.
  • Finishes reps and then repeat with the other leg.

Variations: B-stance deadlift, Romanian deadlift, resistance band hamstring deadlift

Good morning

reverse lunge starting position
good morning is a great posterior chain exercise
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a neutral spine and head straight.
  • Place a loaded barbell behind your neck. Bend your knees slightly but keep your lower back straight as you hinge forward at the hips, with your weight primarily on your heels.
  • Lower your upper body until you’re close to a 90-degree angle.
  • Using only the muscles in your hips and pelvis, push your upper body back into the starting position.

Reverse lunge

reverse lunge starting position
  • Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart while holding a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells at your sides.
  • Lunge backward with your right leg as far as you can comfortably while dropping your hips downward.
  • Once in the down lunge position, push back to the starting position with both legs at the same time.
  • Repeat with the left leg.
  • Alternate legs for the desired number of reps.

Stability ball hamstring curls

hamstring curl on ball is a hamstring exercises for runners
hamstring curls on ball is a hamstring exercises for runners
  • Lie face-up and let both legs rest on top of the stability ball. Your calves and heels must be on the ball. 
  • Place your hands beside you on the floor for greater stability. 
  • Brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips to form a bridge. 
  • Your feet, hips, and lower and upper body should create a straight line.
  • Maintain this elevated bridge position and use your feet to roll the ball toward your glutes by flexing your knees and hips as your heels pull the ball in a smooth, controlled movement toward your butt.
  • When you can’t pull the ball any closer to your glutes, slowly straighten your legs as you use your heels to return the ball to the start position.
  • Repeat

Kettlebell swing

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and push the kettlebell off your body to start the swing.
  • As you lower, hinge at the hips by pushing your glutes back.
  • When you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, drive your hips forward, swinging the kettlebell up.
  • Don’t worry too much about how high the kettlebell gets – the snap at the hips and drive through the glutes is more important than air time.
  • Repeat.

Tip: Focus on hinging your hips. The kettlebell swing is like a deadlift movement, not a squat.

Standing hamstring curls

  • Stand facing the machine and position one leg for the lift by hooking it under the weighted pad.
  • Make sure the pads are in a comfortable position around your ankle. Don’t position the pads too high on the calf.
  • Grab the handles for support.
  • Flex your knee and lift the pad upwards as far as you can toward your glutes
  • Lower the leg to the starting position.
  • Repeat

Nordic Curls

  • Kneel on a pad or cushion
  • Your lower legs need to be supported and fixed in place. You can either use a partner or wedge your feet under an immovable object.
  • Place the feet and ankles in line with the knees.
  • Shoulders directly over the hips. Head in a neutral position. Arms by your sides
  • Slowly lower your body towards the floor with your core, glutes and hamstrings engaged.
  • Lower yourself until just before you reach the point where you are unable to maintain complete control over your body.
  • At this point, you can either place your hands on the floor and complete the rest of the range of motion to the floor or return to the starting position without using your hands.
  • Squeeze your hamstrings hard to pull your body back up to the starting position
  • Repeat.

How to add hamstring exercises into your training

There are many other exercises you can choose from to target the hamstrings, such as lunges, squats and step-ups. Mix and match exercises to keep your routine varied and challenging.

Frequency and duration

Aim to perform hamstring exercises 2-3 times per week, with a rest day between each session. Start with 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps per exercise, and gradually increase the volume over time.

Proper form and technique

When performing hamstring exercises, it’s important to maintain proper form and technique to avoid injury and maximize the effectiveness of the exercise. Some tips to keep in mind include:

  • Keep your core engaged and your back straight.
  • Avoid rounding your back or arching too much.
  • Use a controlled and deliberate motion rather than swinging or jerking the weight.
  • Choose a weight or resistance level that allows you to maintain proper form throughout the exercise.
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