5 Hamstring Exercises To Make You Run Faster
Hamstring Exercises for Speed Improvement and Injury Prevention
The hamstrings are the muscles at the back of your leg that make up 3/7ths of your thigh. They flex the knee, act as a secondary muscle to extend the hip and stabilize the knee. Primarily, they work as an agonist muscle to flex your knee and extend the hip but they also work as an antagonist muscle to control the contraction of the quads when you extend your leg. Imagine kicking a football without your hamstrings there to decelerate your leg after you’ve struck the ball. Something would likely break. This action is just as important for the hamstring as flexing the knee especially, within running. In this article, we will show you 5 hamstring exercises to make you run faster.
The role of the hamstrings in running
With each knee drive the hamstring contracts to bend the knee. This makes the leg a shorter lever to swing through at a faster rate than with an extended leg. As you drive the foot into the ground, the hamstring lengthens under tension so that the knee can extend to drive the foot into the ground. This is an eccentric muscle contraction and creates a high amount of force. Each foot contact you make, the hamstrings contract to provide a stiff and stable knee so that the hips can extend and propel you forwards. There is still discussion whether the hamstrings act in an isometric or eccentric fashion in the down swing phase of a running stride and on contact. There is no doubt that extension occurs at the knee. But a body of research suggests that this could be due to the stretch of tendons whilst the hamstring is acting maximally in an isometric contraction rather than the hamstring actually lengthening. This may also depend on the level of the athlete. More advanced athletes are able to utilize the stretch and rebound of the tendons whereas, weaker and less experienced athletes may rely on the lengthening of the hamstrings to a higher degree.
Either way, the hamstrings play a vital role in sprinting and are required to accept and produce high forces with each foot contact. For this reason, it is vital that we train the hamstrings in a particular way. It is obvious that we need strong hamstrings to run quickly but we also need very fast hamstrings to recoil as quickly as possible.
THE VIDEO: ATHLETES: Hamstring Training for Speed Improvement and Injury Prevention
5 hamstring exercises to make you run faster
Here are 5 hamstring exercises you can use to condition your hamstrings for sprinting and high-speed running. Ensure you stick to the order that has been provided. Notice that the movements progress from slow to fast movements, from high force to low force and from eccentric to isometric to concentric. This is to prepare the hamstrings for the next movement. If you skip a step, you risk a decrease in performance and at worst, an injury.
- GHR/ Nordics
The first movement is an eccentric knee flexion movement. This creates a high amount of force through the hamstrings and prepares them for the forces during running. This movement is a knee flexion movement which, targets the distal part of the hamstring. You will feel it when you attempt it for yourself. If you have a glute ham raise machine in your gym, lock your feet in and place your knee below the curve of the pad. With your hips extended, lean forwards from the knee and take the tension on your hamstrings. Lower yourself down under control until your legs are straight and you are hinged over the big pad. If you are strong enough, drive your knees into the pad and bend the knees to raise you back up. If you aren’t strong enough to raise yourself back up, don’t worry. The focus of this movement is on the eccentric movement at the knee. If your gym doesn’t have a GHR, either go to a better gym or kneel on the floor and grab a friend to anchor your feet down as you lean forwards. This variation is harder to control because the pivot now becomes your knee and the lever as long as your body. Catch yourself on the ground with your hands and help yourself back up.
Perform 3 sets of 3-5 reps depending on your strength level.
The Romanian deadlift combines both eccentric and concentric contractions at the hamstring. However, the knee is fixed in a slightly bent position and the hamstrings work to control the flexion and contract to extend the hips. Start by deadlifting a barbell into a standing position and place your feet directly under your hips. Bend your knees just slightly so that the legs aren’t locked out. With a neutral and rigid spine position, start the movement by reaching the hips backwards and hinging at the hips. Reach far enough that you are flexed from the hips and start to feel a stretch in the hamstrings. Ensure your spine hasn’t flexed and that the knees stay in position. Stand up from the flexed position and extend the hips. Your hamstrings play a vital role in stabilizing the leg during hip extension and assist the gluteus to extend the hips. Perform 3 sets of 5 reps at a weight you can control and maintain posture.
- Slider Hamstring Curl
The hamstring curl is another knee flexion movement but this time, the focus is on the concentric part of the movement. With each knee drive the hamstrings contract to swing the leg through. The faster you are able to make this contraction, the faster the knee drive and the higher your stride frequency. Lay on your back with a low friction slider under your heel. With your legs straight, lift your hips up so that your weight is supported through your shoulders and heels. Pull your heels towards your body and drive your hips upwards into a bridge position. Push your feet out into a straight laying position but don’t let your hips touch the ground. The focus is on the speed of the heel recovery and the control of the lowering phase. Perform 3 sets of 5 reps focusing on the speed of contraction.
- Hamstring Heel Kicks
Now, you have built strength and speed through the hamstring. It is time to increase the speed that the force is applied. Hamstring Heel Kicks is a controlled way to exert force quickly and more importantly, condition the hamstrings to accept force quickly. Lay on your back but place your heels up onto a small soft box between 15-30cm. Raise one leg up off of the box and your hips into a bridge position. Start by marching the heels into the box one by one whilst keeping your hips raised. When you are comfortable with the movement, increase the speed by driving the heel into the box and swapping the feet in mid-flight. This will force the hamstrings to accept force in an isometric fashion very quickly, much like during a foot contact in a sprint.
- Running Mechanics
All of this specific strength work and speed work is great but in order for it to transfer into your sprinting you need to apply the force and speed in a running fashion. Start with a high knee kick ensuring that you can maintain your posture and keep your hips neutral when you drive your foot into the ground. With each step, try and claw the ground underneath you and pull your foot backwards as you make contact to propel yourself forwards. With each knee drive, your hamstring contracts with speed and lengthens under tension during the downward phase of the step. After completing these, perform hamstring heel picks. This is focusing on your heel recovery after your foot has made contact on the ground. They aren’t heel flicks that you might see in an under 15’s football warm up. Stay tall and keep a normal running gate. Focus on pulling the heel towards your bum as you drive your knee forwards. Actively pick your foot up off the ground as you make your stride. Perform these drills in sets of 10-20 meters at a time and repeat for 3-5 sets.
Okay, we said 5 hamstring exercises but this article is about running faster and we had to make the assumption that you will be performing sprint training alongside your strength training. Otherwise, what would be the point? If you want to become fast, you need to train fast. Performing these 5 hamstring exercises won’t make you faster without transfer. When you have built strength and speed in your hamstrings, you need to learn how to express this newfound force and velocity.
Use these hamstring exercises as progressions. Spend at least 2 weeks on each movement before moving onto the next. This will prepare you for the increased velocity that each progression entails and this sequence will help you increase your force production at the higher speeds. Make sure you are still performing sprints and linear speed training for this hamstring work to take effect.