A blog by runners. For runners.

How weak hamstrings may be hurting your running

Weak hamstrings may be hurting your running and making it feel harder.

It’s no secret that many runners don’t strength train enough – I’m guilty, too. (Psst we’ve already shared why runners need to strength train regularly).

Here’s some news that may surprise you, though: distance runners often have too much muscle in a certain area.

I know you’re scratching your head. Most distance runners aren’t big and bulky, and many of us avoid lifting weights all together, so how can we have too much muscle?

According to a new study, runners’ quadriceps are often significantly stronger than their hamstrings. This may not sound like a big deal. After all, running is one of the best ways to get strong, toned quad muscles. But having uneven quad and hamstring strength may hurt your running economy (running economy is how efficiently your body uses oxygen when you run. The better your running economy, the easier running feels).

Research shows distance runners’ quads can be as much as 30-40 percent stronger than their hamstrings. But experts say quads and hamstrings work best when their strength is more even.

The study found overall strength didn’t matter for running economy, the quad-to-hamstring ratio just had to be even for the most benefit. So you have a choice – lose the muscle mass in your quads or increase the muscle strength in your hammies. Clearly, the better approach is to strengthen your hamstrings because having stronger muscles may lower your risk for injuries.

Here’s how pump up your hamstrings:

  • Head for the hills: Running uphill stresses your hamstrings more than running on a flat road while giving your quads a break. Tack a little bit of hill work on to your existing runs every week, or try hill repeats or these other hill workouts.
  • Cross-train with biking: Running and biking complement each other nicely. Runners tend to have strong quads while cyclists have strong hamstrings. Cross-train on your road or spinning bike regularly and you’ll even out the muscle discrepancy.
  • Do plyometrics regularly: Plyometrics are “jump training” exercises and many of them target the hamstrings. Think jumpees, exaggerated skipping, and standing long jumps. An added bonus: plyometrics not only strengthen muscles, but they aid in weight loss and boost athletic performance.
  • Do hamstring targeted strength training moves:Squats, walking lunges, deadlifts, step ups, leg presses, leg curls, and bridges are all weight room exercises that work your hamstrings. If you don’t have access to a gym, you can do many of these moves in your own home with a set of free weights.
  • Practice yoga. Several yoga poses strengthen and loosen up tight hamstrings (see this article for more on yoga for hamstrings).

Written by Jen Matz.