Now that you’re an expert in building strong glutes and stretching your hip flexors (see the first Runners’ Strength and Stretch Guide), we’re going to move on to some great exercises to balance out our hamstrings and quadriceps.
Similarly to the hip flexors, our quadriceps have a tendency to take on most of the work when we run, and it’s important to think about strengthening the antagonist muscles. This brings us to the hamstrings! Below, we have mapped out four of our favorite moves for these large but often forgotten beasts. Do three rounds of each exercise with the recommended number of repetitions
1. Straight Leg Deadlifts (20 reps)
You can do this exercise using a barbell or dumbbells—both will be just as effective but switching between the two is great. We will be demonstrating using a bar. First off, please make sure to ALWAYS pick your weights up with your legs and NOT your back—this is very important for preventing injury.
- Begin by holding the bar in front of your hips with your arms about shoulder width apart and your feet and legs a little inside of your shoulder width.
- Keep your legs straight, but not locked out, and DO NOT bend them at anytime during this exercise as it will defeat the purpose and activate the quads instead.
- Begin by sticking your butt way back (also known as hinging your hips) and slowly reaching the bar down your legs while staying as close as possible. Reach down until you feel a big stretch in your hamstrings while keeping your lower back straight and flat. Return back to your starting position and don’t forget to flex those glutes at the top!
2. Lying Stability Ball Hamstring Curls (15 reps)
Use a well inflated 45-55 cm ball to get the best results.
- Start by lying on your back with the stability ball underneath your feet and calves.
- Make sure to keep hips as high as possible throughout the entire exercise.
- Pull the stability ball as close to your butt as possible and slowly return it back to the beginning position.
3. Reverse Sliding Mountain Climbers (30 – 45 seconds)
Use two towels if you’re on a hard wood surface or two floor gliders (like these) if you’re on carpet.
- Lie flat on your back with knees bent and one under each heel.
- Begin by lifting butt up to the sky like a bridge position and reach one foot at a time all the way forward.
- Return the same foot back to the original position before allowing the second foot to go forward. Repeat this in a fast and vigorous pace. Make sure to keep the weight of your feet on the heel of your shoes.
4. Kettlebell Swings (20 reps)
This is an absolutely amazing exercise that can be can benefit several different muscle groups depending on the positions you hit throughout the exercise. Our goal is to target the body’s posterior chain so it is important to follow this particular method. Please see the picture to get the best idea of how to do this dynamic exercise.
- Always keep legs straight but not locked out. I like to say “keep your knees bent at a 5 degree angle”—no more, no less. You will often see people doing this exercise with a huge bend in their knees. Unless you are in a CrossFit class, I advise not to do this.
- Only think about bending at your hips and reaching back with your glutes.
- Keep most of the weight on your heels
- When thrusting the Kettlebell forward, make sure to snap your hips and squeeze the glutes as tight as possible.
Now that you have learned all these great new tools to strengthen your hamstrings, I’d like to remind you of how important it is to stretch and foam roll the opposing muscles, as these are the ones that are most fatigued on your regular runs. Remember, always hold static stretches for 30 REAL seconds (seriously, watch a clock!).
1. Stretching Quadriceps (statically)
You can do this one standing or lying down. If you have trouble reaching your foot, use a stretching strap, a rubber band or even a towel will also work. To get the most out of any static stretch, make sure to pull until you are what I like to call “uncomfortably comfortable.”
2. Foam Rolling the Quadriceps
Foam rolling is essentially a deep-tissue massage to help your muscles release. It can sometimes be extremely painful and therefore hard to force yourself to do. That being said, the end result is worth it people! This truly is a good example of no pain no gain.
Below are four different ways to foam roll your quadriceps and other supporting muscles. Make sure to hold each between 30 seconds and two minutes or until pain dissipates. A common misconception is to roll back and forth on your muscles, but the best way to get rid of a knot is to hold the roller where you feel the most pain and keep it there.