Most long distance runners, at some point or another, will be in danger of developing a situation known as ‘quad dominance’, where the quad muscles overpower the action of the hamstrings in the movement of the leg during a running stride. This can quickly lead to a host of hamstring issues, with strains, pulls and tendinitis and tears topping the list as the most common maladies.
But why are hamstrings so important to runners?
As you run, the quadriceps contract as you land, and the opposing muscles, the hamstrings, act as brakes to stop your knee from hyperextending at the end movement of a stride. The quad works when the knee is locked out in extension with movement taking place at the hip (the forward swing of a stride).
The quad works with the hip flexors to flex the hip as you move. In addition, when the hip is fixated with movement taking place at the knee (when the leg is planted on the ground), the quads function as extensors of the knee.
If your hamstrings are significantly weaker than your quads, one of two things will occur:
1. Your hamstrings will tear as a result of not being able to take the load developed by the contracting quadriceps and momentum from hip extension.
2. You will run slower as a result of the diminished power from the hip flexors and knee extensors as the hamstrings have to contract earlier to be able to break the ensuing movement.
What are the best exercises for stronger hamstrings?
According to new research published in the American Council on Exercise, a team of researchers in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Cross looked at the most effective exercises to strengthen hamstrings in minimal time.
The study used 16 volunteers between the ages of 20-25, who all had some experience in resistance training. Each participant attended two sessions, in the first, they established their baseline strength. In the second, they performed nine common hamstring exercises in a random order, with electrodes attached to their hamstrings to test muscle activation levels.
The results deemed three exercises significantly more effective than the rest:
1. Kettlebell swings
2. Single-arm/single-leg Romanian deadlifts
3. The prone leg curl
The results found that these three exercises stimulate the hamstrings similarly and may be used interchangeably, as part of a strength building workout for runners. Researchers recommended the prone leg curl for average gym goers, as it is the easiest to perform with proper form.