Hamstring strength for runners looks like this in my head:
Ginormous, strong, hungry legs.
And yet, as runners, jokes on us.
We actually sorta need them....
(the strong leg part. not the hungry part...)
The Oatmeal was onto something.
And recent research in 2020 is backing him up, but with an emphasis on HAMSTRING strength (not endless amounts of granola).
Long story short:
I found this research article fascinating,
It made me think of this comic,
and then that got me thinking about making YOU a hamstring-focused strength training circuit made for runners so that...
You can run injury free, more efficiently, and experience stronger, less fatigued, (more joyful) long runs.
(recipe for granola not included).
Let's jump in.
FAST BACKGROUND of Really Cool Research Facts:
This is for my fellow running-nerds who like to know the WHY.
If you want to skip this part, you can. The exercise circuit and video is below.
"It has been suggested that hamstrings muscles play an essential role during running fatigue and injury risk because an inhibition of the hamstring muscles is produced before the onset of fatigue, which causes a dominance of the quadriceps in the loading response phase and that induces an increased knee flexion. However, these modifications can increase the metabolic cost, making the running technique less efficient. So, high levels of muscle strength could prevent, or at least delay, the kinematic changes associated with fatigued running."
Why this is DOPE:
The authors here are discussing a theory of how muscles work, specifically that hamstrings start to act "clunky" around the time of the onset of fatigue brought on from running a long time.
When you fatigue, your body will always take the easy way out. In this case, it begins to dump the work into your quads, the top of your thighs. While this keeps you running, it's actually way less efficient for your body, costs more energy, and your running form/technique turns to crap, putting you at risk for running injuries.
TO AVOID THAT: a potential solution could be...
"higher hamstring isokinetic strength and dynamic stability [which] are related to lower kinematic changes in the running pattern..." (read: fewer bad running gait compensations)
"The aim of this study was to analyze the relationship between isokinetic strength and dynamic postural stability (DPSI) with the pattern of movements during running after peripheral and central fatigue. The main results were that runners with higher hamstring isokinetic strength and a better DPSI had lower modifications after central fatigue of stance time, knee flexion, vertical and leg stiffness, and ankle dorsiflexion during the absorption and propulsion phases.
SHORT ANSWER: Build some amazing Hamstring Strength in two different ways
a resistance way (think regular strength training like RDLs, deadlifts, etc)
and dynamic stability (think about being really stable and solid landing from hopping plyometric exercise)
Because in theory: you could deadlift 400lbs....
But you might SUCK at jumping and landing on one leg because they're two entirely different skills.
Let me give you a sampler of exercises in this week's circuit that can begin to help build these injury-proof and fatigue-resistant hamstrings.
In reality, it takes more than a circuit, but a circuit gets you started. What's more efficient is consistent strength training programing like RACE READY, my 16 week strength program for runners that's designed to incorporate new research like this so you can run your best yet.
Reduce Running Injuries and Prevent Long Run Fatigue with Hamstring Strength for Runners
PLYO WARM UP CIRCUIT:
3 sets (perform all of these before doing remaining exercises)
Split Stance Jump
5 reps R leg forward/ 5 reps L leg forward
REST 30 secs between legs and 60 secs between sets
3 sets each // Body weight + Medium weights
Bird Dog with Leg Push into Wall
too fatigue each side
challenge mode: lift your knee of the mat/floor (very optional!)
Runner's Lunge Halo
R leg forward: 6 halos CW/ 6 halos CCW
L leg forward: 6 halos CW/ 6 halos CCW (clock wise vs counter clockwise)
challenge mode: elevate that front leg on a step/box
Hamstring Roll Outs/Ins
options: use exercise ball, furniture sliders, or paper on slippy surface at home
How Hamstring Strength Decreases Risk of Running Injuries and Prevents Long Run Fatigue
Split Stance Jump -PLYO
FIRST thing you should know: always do your plyometric or jumping exercises first!
Attempting powerful, explosive exercises AFTER lifting heavy is a recipe for dead legs, not effective results, and a grumpy runner.
Can you see how this exercise looks like running? Since plyos are a type of strength training, this exercise does double duty of building hamstring power/strength AND helping you build that dynamic stability, the ability to handle changes in gait mechanics as fatigue sets in.
Bird Dog with Leg Push into Wall
if you've been here a hot minute, this one isn't new. that's on purpose ;)
the research paper specifically mentioned resistance type of strength. While we'll dive into that further with the last exercise, this one gets your hamstrings primed with an isometric contraction that also invites your core to party, all in a position that looks like running.
Can you see how it looks like running into the ground? Especially in challenge mode where you can lift your knee of the mat or floor ;)
Runner's Lunge Halo
This is one of my favorite exercises to give to runners struggle with hamstring problems.
The elongated runner's stance requires your hamstrings to be ROCK solid and begins to directly address stability, specifically dynamic stability mentioned in our research paper.
The exercise of the halos are what we call in the PT world "perturbations", or movements that change your center of mass, making you slightly off balance. This "off-balance" requires your hamstring and core to respond with stability, making you a stronger runner who is more responsive to changes in the environment/surface you're running on and more fatigue resistant because your body knows how to respond to these changes.
Hamstring Roll Outs/Ins
I know what you're thinking: these are evil. I agree.
THE SECRET: these are phenomal for helping you build a specific kind of strength, eccentric strength.
This strength is when your muscles are in a "stretched out" or in an elongated positio n. Example: when your leg comes in contact with the ground during your stride and your knee begins to bend. your hamstrings are working overtime in an eccentric way (it's actually in this moment in your stride that we could get into quad/hamstring ratio...but we won't ;) )
While this exercise doesn't inherently look like running, it could if you did it single leg. But I'm not that mean, because even my hamstrings cramp if I try that lol
WRAPPING UP: WHY BOTHER with this?
Well, the research paper itself said to build giant, Oatmeal-esque legs:
"Moreover, it would also be interesting to investigate whether a training program aimed at increasing hamstring strength and stability could reduce or delay the fatigue effects on increasing ranges of movement and metabolic cost."
In all seriousness...
Hamstring strength can make you a more fatigue resistant runner.
Which adds up to YOU running longer, with better running form, decreased risk of running injury, and overall more efficiently...which helps you run faster, longer, better and even set a PR at your next race.
If you want to sample out what it's like to consistently build hamstring strength like a runner, take my STRONGER RUNNER CHALLENGE: a 14 day Strength Program that fits into your existing running plan and helps you get started on strength training like a runner.
Dare to Train Differently,
Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit
P.S. No really, 14 Days of Strength Programing FOR FREE.
I put together videos of all the exercises.
The circuits are all written out for quick reference...
and they're in one easy to use app.
All you have to do, is whip out your phone each day to get to work ;)
Encarnación-Martínez A, García-Gallart A, Sanchis-Sanchis R, Jimenez-Perez I, Priego-Quesada JI, Pérez-Soriano P. Higher Hamstrings Strength and Stability Are Related to Lower Kinematics Alteration during Running after Central and Peripheral Fatigue. Sensors. 2022; 22(5):1990. https://doi.org/10.3390/s22051990