A runners guide to the hamstrings and hips
The hamstrings have been a very underrated and underused part of our anatomy for some time now. Runners often complain of tight hammys, usually a result of long sitting hours where the hamstrings rest in a shortened position. What they don't know, is that tight hamstrings often coincide with weak, under-active musculature and this can cause our quadriceps to fire up instead. As we know from 'The Ugly Knee', overactive quadriceps can often result in knee pain or injury..Not to mention poor performance.
Stronger Hamstrings = Better Hip Extension = More Power
The 'take-off' or push-off phase is where you propel your body forward. The stronger and more powerful the propulsion, the further your body travels, the faster and more efficiently you can run.
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You would be forgiven in thinking that most running power comes from the glutes and quads. This is not entirely untrue, but if we break it down and look at the movement pattern you will see that the hamstrings have a great role in running speed as well. I'll make this quick and simple...
A muscle pulls on bones to help you move. The hamstring muscles are attached to the knee and hip and help your knee bend and hip extend. Hip extension begins as soon as your foot contacts the ground and continues until you push off again.Take a look at the picture above, during the 'take-off' phase, the right leg hip extends to help drive the thigh backwards and carry your centre of mass forward ready for your left foot to land.
How Can I Improve My Hip Extension?
We can focus on two elements when we want to improve our hip extension.
1. The power available to drive your leg back behind your body after 'initial contact'
Don't confuse this with ramming your foot into the ground and forcing your leg backwards. Aim for your foot to land under your hip, the power comes from your hip extensors, glutes and hamstrings to pull the leg under and behind you. Once 'initial contact' is made, your leg should relax and naturally travel behind you. Therefore you will need less force and pressure around the foot and knees which could mean less injuries :-)
2. The range of motion available around the hip to allow the leg to travel backwards
I often see runners who skip 'initial swing' altogether. Those with tight hips will begin 'initial contact' on their other leg soon after 'take-off'. What does this mean? That you will have a shorter stride meaning you will need double the steps to go the distance.
How do I do this?
1. Stretch/ Mobility
In a deep squat position, hold onto your toes, extend through the knees and take your hips as high as you can. Aim for 3 sets of 20 repetitions trying to take your hips a little higher each time.
Open up the hips but kneeling in a lunge, take your front knee out over your toe and hold for 30-60 seconds. For an even better opening, hold the stretch at around 70% intensity for 3-5 minutes. This is easier if you have something to hold onto, like a chair.
Grab a towel or band, lying on your back, keep your knee straight and hold in position 1 for 30-60 seconds. Repeat in position 2 and 3 before switching legs.
There are literally hundreds of exercises. here's some to get you started..Theraband Hip Extension (cable back kicks)
This can be done lying down, standing up, with a theraband/resistance band/ power band or cable machine. As long as you keep your knee straight and initiate the movement from your hamstrings and glutes, then you're on the money! If standing, try and balance on the grounded foot without the swinging leg touching the ground throughout the set.
These can be done with or without a theraband. Start on all fours and wrap theraband around your knee and foot. Extend your leg back and up.
Keeping your legs straight. Kick your feet in front of you and land each foot under your hip while moving forwards.
You can use dumbbells, barbell, kettle bell or bodyweight for this exercise. Keep your legs and back straight, hinge from the hips and take your weight or hands down your legs until you feel a stretch. Using your hamstrings and maintaining your straight back position, return to the start.
In plank position on your toes, keep your knees straight and lift one leg as high as you can without losing your plank form. Start with alternating legs and build to one side at a time.
Need some help getting your glutes and hip musculature firing? Check out our Bums & Tums classes..prepare to feel your glutes on fire!!