Hamstring injuries can be very debilitating and have a relatively high recurrence rate, with research showing once you suffer a hamstring strain, you are up to 30% more likely to suffer a second.
Hamstring strains are common in sports which require lots of running, particularly sharp bursts of acceleration mixed with walking or slower jogging. During the swing phase of running, the hamstrings act eccentrically (lengthen) to decelerate the lower leg. This deceleration of the lower leg is necessary in order to position the foot and ankle for contact with the ground. It is within this swing phase of running that most hamstring injuries occur.
In order for the hamstrings to withstand the forces of running, they must be strong eccentrically; that means they must be strong in a lengthened position and training of this muscle group should reflect that.
Training for the prevention of hamstring strains
To prevent suffering hamstring issues whilst running, get them as strong as you can. Here are some exercises which challenge the hamstring eccentrically, protecting them in that lengthening position during running.
Begin with 3x8 reps at a moderate load and progress to 4x5 with heavier load. Remember hamstrings need to get strong, so heavy loads are what you are aiming for!
1. Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
Begin with the bar close to your body, arms straight.
From here, hinge at the hips and push hips backwards, whilst allowing the bar to track down your thighs.
As you perform this movement, your hamstrings are eccentrically controlling the load and you should feel a stretching sensation.
Ensure your back is kept flat during this exercise and movement only occurs from the hips.
From here, bring the torso back upright and repeat. As you become technically competent, add load.
Ideally use a partner for this exercise, and get them to hold your ankles tight to the floor as you begin in a kneeling stance.
Keeping the torso upright, lean forward, hinging from the knees as you lower yourself to the ground.
Move as slow as possible as you get towards the ground.
From here, you may need to use your arms to give yourself a little press up off the floor to return to the starting position.
This exercise can also be done holding a weight plate as you get more competent.
3. Single Leg Kettlebell
Whilst the traditional RDL is brilliant for building strength in those hamstrings, a single leg version is also a very useful tool to ensure both legs are getting equally challenged and there is no movement compensation giving one side an easy ride.
Whilst on a single leg you wont be able to lift the same heavy load, this exercise does ensure both legs are being challenged independently.
Begin on one foot and hold the kettlebell in the same side arm.
Drive hips backwards and lower the kettlebell down your thigh; the free leg will raise into the air as you perform an arabesque type movement.
You should feel the hamstrings stretching as you lower.
Lift the torso as you return to upright.