Hamstring Exercises: Increase Speed on the Track
Hamstring is a term that’s been applied to the posterior muscles and tendons of the thigh. The word literally means ham (referring to the meat of the upper leg) and strings, or tendons. But anatomically, the hamstring area is actually composed of three distinct muscles called the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. These three muscles run between the knee and hip and are responsible for extending (or straightening) the hip and flexing (bending) the knee. The force the hamstring muscles exert on the knee works in direct opposition (antagonism) to the force of the quadriceps, which are located on the front of the thigh and pull the knee into a straight position.
The hamstrings play a crucial role in walking, jumping, and specifically running. So effective running workouts should include hamstring exercises that keep these three muscles strong and explosive. Track athletes need to pay close attention to the strength and flexibility of the hamstrings, and should recognize that these muscles sometimes require more attention than running workouts alone can provide. Fortunately, resistance training can fill in the gaps of straightforward running workouts. But it’s a good idea to get some expert help from a trainer or coach to determine which kinds of hamstring exercises are necessary for a given body type and track goal (long distance, short sprints, etc).
Hamstrings and Running Workouts
During most standard running exercises, leg presses, and sprints, both the quadriceps and the hamstrings are taxed. But often, the resistance of a given exercise is distributed unevenly between these two muscle groups. After months or years of running workouts, the quads can sometimes become proportionally stronger than the hamstrings, an imbalance that can hold athletes back on the track and may even increase the possibility of injury.
To counter this tendency, track athletes should warm up and stretch the hamstrings properly before running workouts, and should spend a few hours per week in the gym focusing on hamstring exercises that target resistance in this specific area.
Before standard running workouts, track athletes should spend about ten minutes jogging lightly to bring heat and increased blood circulation to the hamstrings. The warm up should be followed by dynamic stretching and hamstring exercises that loosen and lengthen the muscle fibers, for example, kicking each leg forward into the air while staying straight at the knee. After running workouts, at least three times per week, track athletes should head to the gym for hamstring exercises like the suspension training workout below.
Hamstring Exercises With the KB Duo Can Supplement Running Workouts
Suspension training straps like the KB Duo can provide support and complexity that can take ordinary hamstring exercises to the next level. Weight machines can create resistance, but with suspension straps, the muscles need to work additionally hard to maintain balance, and the benefits of this show up in an athlete’s performance on the track.
But track athletes should also be very careful not to lose balance and control during suspension training hamstring exercises like the moves in this video. As track athletes complete this exercise, they should move slowly and prioritize control and technique over speed.
Note how the track athlete in the video has adjusted the suspension straps so they hang just a few inches above the floor. He hooks his heels firmly into the straps before the beginning the hamstring exercises, then he lies flat on the floor with his spine forming a right angle with the straps and his feet slightly elevated.
As he completes this set of hamstring exercises, he’ll raise his rear off the ground by applying downward pressure with his hamstrings. Then he’ll bend his knees, flex his hips, and draw the suspended straps toward himself using the control and strength of his back, legs, and core.
This track athlete will be completing three sets of eight of these hamstring exercises, but some track athletes may not be ready to place this kind of strain on the hamstrings. So each track athlete should complete these hamstring exercises at his or her own pace, with caution, and with rest periods when necessary. Beginning runners may decide to stop after three to six reps of these hamstring exercises at first. As running workouts become more intense and strength builds in the hamstrings, track athletes can increase the reps of these hamstring exercises to 12 or 15.
Like the model in the video, track athletes should work hard to keep the hips straight and elevated as they rise up off the floor. Notice how our track athlete keeps his hands at his sides on the floor for extra stability and notice how he works to keep the tension of the move concentrated in the backs of his upper legs. Also notice that he doesn’t relax his hips or return them to the floor until all eight reps have been completed.
A spotter or running workout coach can be very helpful during these kinds of hamstring exercises, since he or she can provide pointers on body position and safety. But as long as track athletes stay in control of the motion of the straps, this is also an excellent exercise to complete at home or in the gym at any time. With the KB duo, any room can be instantly converted into a running workout space perfect for hamstring exercises like these.
Supplement running workouts with hamstring exercises and balanced, varied resistance training. For more hamstring exercises and running workout help, check the KBands website for the Athlete Performance Pack, training videos that offer specific guidance to track athletes. The Athlete Performance Pack also provides additional tips for optimizing the KB Duo suspension training system. In the meantime, we invite track athletes to subscribe for free Flex-to-Fit video workouts delivered every week.