The best way to solve the problem is to prevent it in the first place. – By Susan Paul
Robert asks: Apparently, I am very susceptible to hamstring strains as I have sustained several of them over the years. Any suggestions for what I might be able to do to help prevent them as I return to running after my third injury with it?
Starting with some strength training before you even begin running might be the best solution. The best protection against a hamstring injury is to improve strength and flexibility, as well as the surrounding muscles that support them.
First, a quick anatomy lesson. Your entire thigh consists of two opposing muscle groups: the quadriceps on the front and the hamstrings on the backside. The hamstring is responsible for hip extension and knee flexion, while the quadriceps is responsible for the opposite actions of hip flexion and knee extension. Both of these muscle groups also stabilise the knee joint, especially during activities like running.
The quadriceps are naturally the larger, stronger, and more dominant muscle group, most likely because they are used more frequently in daily activities. (Just think about the amount time you spend in flexed positions, like sitting.) Since the hamstrings are typically the weaker muscle group, it follows that they have a higher risk of injury. It is also important to note that since the hamstrings and the quadriceps cross the hip and knee, they are also at an increased risk of injury.
Specific strength training exercises for the hamstrings include leg curls, deadlifts, and hip extension movements. Thankfully, Runner’s World has a great two-day hamstring strengthening routine you can try here, or by watching the video below.
Stability exercises can also be done because they are useful for improving the communication and coordination between the hamstrings and quadriceps. This may help prevent the quadriceps from overpowering the hamstrings when running. Stability exercises include single-leg balancing, single-leg squats, and lunges.
Double leg squats and lunges are also good all-around lower body exercises, but just remember that these exercises do not isolate the hamstrings, but rather, use both the hamstrings and the quadriceps.
In most cases, core work means improving the strength of the abdominal muscles and improving both the strength and flexibility of the lower back. Core exercises include planks and sometimes abdominal crunches, but you can be creative in how you work your middle.
Yoga, specifically yoga for runners, can also be very effective for both strengthening and improving flexibility of various muscle groups as well.
If you incorporate regular strength and flexibility training into your workout routine and follow a running plan suitable for your current fitness level, the odds should be in your favour this time around.