The hamstring muscle, which runs along the back of the thigh, helps bend the knee and absorbs shock when runners push off of the ground. While the quadriceps should be about 25 percent stronger than the hamstring, a weak hamstring causes even more of an imbalance which can leave you prone to injury. By performing exercises to keep your hamstrings strong and flexible, you will both protect the hamstring muscle and reduce the risk of a running injury to the back, hips and knees.
Lying Leg Curls
Put on an ankle weight and lie on your stomach, keeping your hips flat and toes pointed. Contract your hamstring, bend your knee and raise the weighted foot toward your buttocks. Target your inner hamstring by maintaining the same position with the toes on the working leg pointed inward. Repeat the exercise with toes pointed out to target the outer hamstring. Do 10 repetitions of each exercise on each leg.
With the weights on your ankles, rest your hands on the back of a chair for balance and shift your weight to one leg. Bend the other knee and lift your heel toward your buttocks, keeping your knees close together. Hold at the top of the contraction for three to five seconds, then slowly lower your leg. Perform 10 repetitions and repeat on the other leg. Be sure not to lock the standing leg during this exercise.
Use a Swiss ball for a challenging hamstring exercise. Lie on the ground with your feet on top of the ball. Lift your hips so that your back is raised off of the ground and you are resting on your shoulder blades. Roll the ball toward you, bending your knees to 90 degrees. Hold for one count and roll the ball back to the starting position. Repeat 10 to 12 times.
Flexibility is as important as strength when it comes to protecting the hamstring muscle. Stretch your hamstrings before and after you run to increase flexibility. From standing, bend knees slightly and roll forward from the waist to hang over your lower body. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. If you have back problems, or your hamstrings are very tight, place your foot on a step or a slightly elevated surface and lean forward from the hip joint, keeping your back straight. You can also stretch your hamstrings one at a time by standing on one leg and placing the other foot on a chair in front of you. Keeping your knees straight but not locked, lean forward over your front leg.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.