The hamstrings are a mysterious group of muscles. We will blame them for a lot of our running-related aches and pains, but it’s often not their fault. The reality is, our muscle fibers aren’t usually ‘tight’, as it’s just a sensation caused by the nervous system, fascia, and supporting structures around them. Yes, this can be influenced by one’s anatomy, but other factors such as lifestyle, occupation, diet, and training habits will also contribute to the health (or hurt) of this area.
If you want a deep dive into the physiology behind the infamous ‘hamstring tightness’ sensation, I’ve got you covered here. If you’re just looking for a quick fix, however, you’re in the right place. There are unbelievably easy solutions to improving the health and resilience of the hamstring muscle group. Spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with stretching!
Whether you’ve never experienced hamstring pain, or you’re constantly feeling muscle-bound, I’d highly recommend incorporating the exercises below into your fitness routine. Here are three reasons:
- It is a tiny investment. Completing 2–3 sets will take you less than 5 minutes.
- Your performance and adherence to running will likely improve.
- Consistent application will play a large role in the prevention of potential lower-body injuries down the road.
Without further ado, let’s look at how you can give those hamstrings some love and take your running to new heights!
3 Hamstring Strengthening Exercises for Runners
Before continuing, a quick disclaimer: I’m not guaranteeing that these movements will be 100% successful for everyone. We’re all different and will respond in various ways to certain training modalities. If, for whatever reason, you experience pain or discomfort completing an exercise, seek professional help on how you can train in a way that’s appropriate for your body and lifestyle.
Second, I want to do everything possible to reduce all barriers between you and improving your training. To start, simply select one of the three movements that work best for you, and do it 1–2 times per week. This should only take a few minutes per session! You can slide it into your workout routine at the gym, or incorporate it into the final phase of your warm-up.
Consistency is key here, so start small and gradually work your way up to adding exercises, weight, and/or reps later on. Just beware, it is possible to overtrain the hamstrings. Listen to your body and follow the rep ranges provided with a moderate resistance (50–75% intensity) to avoid injury. This is especially key if you’ve never done resistance training before.
1) Romanian Deadlift
Recommended Application: 2–3 sets of 15–20 reps
Cues: Start with a light barbell to complete more reps. Whenever we’re training for an endurance sport like running, it’s appropriate to complete an endurance-like rep range (20+). Start by grabbing the bar with an overhand grip just slightly outside of your shoulder-width leg position. Lift the bar to hip height while keeping core tight, glutes engaged, and back neutral.
Now with the bar at the top, engage through the core, and set the shoulders ‘down and back’. Next, hinge with your hips (while keeping your back straight and chest proud) and let the bar slide down the anterior portion of your legs. Bending the knees just slightly, lower the bar until you feel your hamstrings are near their edge. This will typically range anywhere from the knee joint to the floor. Again, everyone is different!
To complete the rep, extend through the hips to bring the bar back up to the starting position. Don’t forget to keep the core and shoulders locked into place. For breathing, try inhaling on the lower, and exhaling on the way back up.
**This is more of an ‘advanced lift’, so if you’re brand new to training and don’t have access to a personal trainer, I’d recommend trying one of the two movements below instead.
2) Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls
Recommended Application: 2-3 sets of 10–20 reps
Cues: Lie on your back with your legs straight and your ankles on the ball. Lift your hips off the ground so your legs and torso are in a straight line. Use the hamstrings to roll the ball towards your buttocks by bending the knees without lifting or lowering your hips. Then, roll the ball back to the starting position by straightening your knees. Keep the core tight and the hips elevated throughout!
Progressions: increase the time of your lengthening phase (more time under tension), lift your elbows off of the ground, single-leg version
3) Heel Sliders (least equipment required!)
Recommended Application: 2–3 sets of 10–20 reps
Cues: Start by laying on your back with your feet and knees hip-width apart and heels on individual sliding disks. Squeeze your glutes to lift the hips. Do not arch your low back. Get steady in the bridge position and then slowly release your heels out into a straight leg position while keeping your glutes engaged through the motion.
In the straight leg position, lower your buttocks to the ground and get back to the starting position. The goal of the exercise is to strengthen only the eccentric portion of the movement where you straighten your legs. This is the best option for beginners who are looking to ease into hamstring training!
Progressions: single-leg version, full hamstring curl (completing the lengthen and contraction phases by keeping hips up throughout)
Quick Tip: If you don’t have access to sliders, you can simply wear socks on a hard floor for the same effect!
There is a quick and easy solution to your hamstring tightness, and it comes in the form of strength training. Yes, the days of prescribing stretching to alleviate hamstring discomfort are finally over! Even as little as 2 to 3 sets per week can make a significant difference in how your muscles respond to training.
If you want to become a better runner, don’t be afraid to pick up a barbell or perform a body-weight exercise every once in a while. No, you won't be ‘bogged down’ by additional muscle mass. Instead, you’ll experience vast physical and neurological benefits that have the power to decrease pain, improve performance, and make you the best athlete possible.