CLINIC: Quads Help Hamstrings—and Vice Versa

Tue, 6 Dec. 2011 - 1:25 a.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

QUESTION:
What exercises or workouts will protect my hamstrings from soreness after longer races? Every time I complete a marathon, my hamstrings ache for up to a week afterward.
 
Deanna Braughn
Atlanta, GA

ANSWER:
Remember the key is to strengthen not just your hamstrings, but the surrounding muscles and especially the muscles directly opposite—in this case, the quadriceps. Pool workouts with a kick board can be effective endurance builders for your hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteus muscles. Start with five to ten laps three times a week; add two laps per week until you’ve reached 20 laps. Bike workouts with clip-on pedals will allow you to pull through the bottom of your stroke, which works the hamstrings. Start with five to ten minutes three times a week, adding two minutes per week until you’re up to one hour. Also, anaerobic strength training on machines that work your pelvis, core, quads, and hamstrings should certainly not be ignored.
 
Viviane Ugalde, MD
Bend, OR

ANSWER:
While the hamstrings are very active in the normal running gait, my experience is that they are overactive in many runners with underactive pelvic stabilizers and hip extensors. If they are always significantly more sore than your other leg muscles following a marathon, you may be among the many runners who overuse them. It’s worth having your gait analyzed by a sports medicine physician.
 
In the meantime, I would begin a regimen that focuses on hip and trunk strengthening, using a full-length mirror to monitor your posture. Include single-leg stands, single-leg squats both in the sagittal plane and transversing it in a rotating motion, and prone leg extensions for the hip and lower back stabilizers. The sagittal plane is an imaginary line running from the front to the back of the body that divides the right side from the left.
 
Single-leg stands with opposite leg abduction (movement away from the body) are also excellent for strengthening the pelvis. This exercise targets the gluteus medius, a stabilizing muscle that is notoriously weak in runners and leads to hamstring overuse.
 
While running, concentrate on keeping a long, tall torso with your weight centered over your foot in the stance phase. Focus on pushing off from your hip. Skipping is a good drill for this: Try skipping for 10 to 20 meters, then striding for 50 to 80 meters.
 
John Cianca, MD
Houston, TX
 
(RUNNING & FITNEWS® January / February 2011 • Volume 29, Number 1)
 
DISCLAIMER: The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Please consult your health care provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition.
 
The American Running Association (ARA) and its Clinic Advisory Board disclaims responsibility and shall have no liability for any consequences suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained in this site. ARA does not endorse specifically any test, treatment, or procedure mentioned on this site.

 



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