Do you want to run further, faster and for longer? If running is a big part of your exercise routine and you are stuck in a plateau it might not be just your general fitness holding you back. Have you been exercising for a while now and you just can't seem to push forward or run for as long? Your hamstrings are just as important as your quadriceps when running and you musn't neglect them during your training.
Running is a great form of exercise and for many of us we will choose to run to achieve our fitness goals. I love running and find it is a great release and change from doing weight lifting all the time. But how many of you realise that the hamstring muscles are responsible for most of the technique when running? If you hit the road a few times a week and also work on lower and upper body strength in the gym, exercising your hamstrings will develop better strength and could give you better results.
So the muscles of the back of your thigh make up the hamstrings and in particular there is a main hamstring muscle called the bicep femoris. This muscle is responsible for the kickback motion when you run which acts as a spring coil and will push you further. When you run other muscles are engaged like your hip flexors, quadriceps and bum muscles. But it is when you kick back with the leg and heel which drives you forward and gives you the momentum to spring forward. The hamstring muscles are typically type 2 muscle fibres and therefore are explosive and require a heavy amount of tension to make them stronger. Whilst running it is important to kick back with your heels so that you work the hamstring properly. How many of you run pushing forward with your hips and quads instead of kicking back your heels and engaging the hamstring muscles??
Whilst running will build muscles in your hamstrings, you will notice better results exercising them when in the gym environment. Like I have already mentioned, the hamstring muscles respond best to heavy loads as they are predominantly made up of type 2 muscle fibres. Therefore the exercises you perform should be of a low rep range and a high weight. Now, some of you will respond differently but for the most part, lower reps will build stronger hamstrings. So what exercises can you do that will help?
Stiff Leg Deadlifts - A simply, awesome compound exercise that you should have within your training arsenal. Perform this exercise using an Olympic bar and steadily increase the load on the bar with each set.
Single Leg Curls - It is natural to have one leg stronger than the other so performing single leg curls will help improve imbalances on your body. Perform this exercise on a cable machine and really focus on squeezing the hamstring when you bring your heel to you bum.
Machine Leg Curl - Perform this exercise at the end of working your hamstrings and as it is a machine you can really load the weight on without worrying about technique. Perhaps add in drop sets for this exercise too to really maximise growth.
It possibly comes as no surprise that when you begin weight training and overloading a certain area your mobility within the muscles could weaken. So with this said it is imperative you stretch your muscles so that you do not attract an injury. The hamstrings are like any other muscle that could give way or become imbalanced so it is crucial to your training that you keep them as mobile and free as possible. Stretching or the use of a foam roller will help keep the muscles long and knot free.
Last piece of advice is to invest in a good whey protein so that your muscles recover quicker and stronger. Perform these exercises next time you are working on your lower body strength and I'm sure after a few weeks you will notice better speed and strength in your legs when you run. Enjoy :)