Hamstrings injuries can be a real pain in the butt (no pun intended) for many of us runners who love to run, as these muscles are very prone to tears, strains, and inflammation while running.
Here’s the good news. Paying attention to your hamstring’s health may help cut down the risk of pains from turning into your full-blown injuries. It also helps ensure optimal performance.
In this article, you’ll discover four ways to start taking care of your hamstrings so you can avoid injury and keep performing at your best.
Let’s get started.
What Are The Hamstrings
The hamstrings muscles refer to the three muscles located along the back of the thigh, stretching from the pelvis to the knee on the backside of your upper legs.
These include the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and the biceps femoris. The hamstrings are key for runners because they’re in charge of knee flexion, allowing us to raise the foot and kick it back.
The hamstrings can also act as extensors and rotators of the hips.
In other words, we use them A LOT while running.
For these reasons, if you tend to log serious miles, you’re more likely to overuse these muscles, forcing them to tense up and contract and leading to hamstrings issues down the road.
Hamstring conditions are often slow to heal, and runners often spend several weeks (or months) resting or performing alternative exercises before they’re able to train pain-free again.
Just like many muscular issues, hamstrings injuries tend to re-occur, especially if when the root cause of the injury is ignored.
How to take care of your Hamstrings For Runners
If you’re prone to hamstrings issues, the following strategies can help you take good care of them, soothing pain and preventing injury.
Stretching Your Hamstrings
If you lack flexibility in your hamstrings, or if you’ve experienced pain or injury in the muscle, you may benefit from regular stretching exercises to help improve overall hamstrings flexibility.
Stretching loosens up the muscles and improves its range of motion.
Hamstrings stretches can be performed virtually anywhere and require little to no equipment.
Remember that stretching won’t inherently improve hamstring flexibility or pain. If poor alignment is the culprit behind your pain, your hamstrings are already in an overextended position, and stretching won’t give you the relief you seek.
In such a case, turning to the opposing muscle group—the quads—is a good place to start to figure out where the problem lies.
So how you get the most out of stretching as a runner?
Perform a series of static stretches, right after an active warm-up or a run, but never before a workout as doing so may compromise your performance and increase injury risk. While stretching, take your hamstrings to the end range of hold for 45 to 60 seconds. Perform the stretches on both sides.
Strength Train Your Hamstrings
Muscle imbalances are quite common in runners. One of the most common comparative weaknesses is of the hamstrings muscles in comparison to the muscles of the quadriceps, the group of muscles located in front of the thigh.
The hamstrings function as a counterbalance to the quadriceps. Every time your foot strikes the ground while walking or running, your hamstrings help pull your body back over your legs while your quads help push you forward.
Here’s the bad news. Often this relationship can become reversed, leading to all sorts of troubles.
When your hamstrings are drastically weaker than your quadriceps (often due to the repetitive loading of the frontal chain from running), then the muscles at the back of your thigh may tear due to their inability to withstand training load.
Your running performance will also be hampered as a result of reduced power form the hip flexors and knee extensors.
Ideal exercises for strengthening the hamstrings include:
- Single-leg deadlift
- Eccentric hamstrings curls
- Single leg glute bridges
- Walking lunges
Massage Your Hamstings
The hamstrings muscles are responsible for bending or flexing the knees as well as extending the hips. Muscle knots in these muscles may cause pain or tenderness either in the back of the upper leg as well in the buttocks area.
A good massage therapist will use their hands to manipulate these muscles and the tissue surrounding it to help with any from stress to pain to muscle tension.
A good massage may help break down any scar tissue that has formed in muscles and the tissue surrounding, helping soothe tightness muscles and improve circulation to the area—all of aids in the recovery process.
Here’s how to self-massage your hamstrings.
If you don’t like to massage your hamstrings on your own, make an appointment with a licensed massage therapist, especially if you can afford it.
Foam Roll Your Hamstrings
Foam rolling is a form of a self-myofascial release massage performed using a cylindrical piece of foam. It helps soothe soreness, inflammation, increase joint range of motion, and most importantly, relieve muscle tightness, especially in the hamstrings.
Foam rolling is a fantastic tool to add to your warm-up or cool-down routine, before and after running.
It’s simple. Foam rolling breaks down and soothes knots that hinder range of motion, preparing your muscles for stretching and optimum performance.
Here’s a quick foam roll stretch you can use to target your hamstrings.
Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place the roller beneath your upper thigh. Put your hands behind you, fingers facing away from the body.
Next, place the foam roller beneath your right hamstring, and bring your left ankle up to rest of the right knee, then lift your bottom off the floor, so your weight is resting on your hands and the foam roller.
Roll back and forth so that the foam roller rolls up and down the entire back of your thigh, and look for tender spots or tension points throughout both of the hamstrings.
Keep in mind that you can also use a baseball or tennis bass for the same purpose if you don’t have a foam roller.