This Workout Will Help You Power Up Hills
As a runner, your chances for quad dominance—when the quads and hip flexors overpower the glutes and hamstrings—are pretty high. Running mechanics tend to strengthen the body’s anterior muscles (those on the front of the body) more than the posterior chain (or the muscles along the back of the body). And other factors, like treadmill overuse or sitting all day, only exacerbate the issue.
“Hamstrings provide strength and power when accelerating or running uphill”
This kind of imbalance can lead to injuries, especially in the hamstrings (which can take months to heal) and lower back. Quad dominance can also rob you of speed and endurance. That’s why you need to target the muscles on the back of the legs, including the hamstrings.
The Benefits of a Hamstring Workout for Runners
“Hamstrings provide strength and power when accelerating or running uphill,” Alison Staples, coach at &Running, tells Runner’s World. “The hamstrings cross and act upon two joints: the hip and the knee. In running, when our foot first hits the ground, the hamstring contracts to help pull us forward. At the end of the foot-on-ground part of the stride (the stance phase), it contracts further to pull our heel up into the swing part of the stride.”
Staples explains that most runners need to spend less time stretching the hamstrings and more time strengthening and loading them. “There needs to be a certain degree of tension in the hamstrings for them to aid in running performance,” she says.
Feel like your backside isn’t pulling its weight? Try this quick hamstring workout. Programmed by Staples, the four-move circuit can be used with lighter resistance as a part of a warmup or incorporated into an existing strength-training routine.
How to use this list: Perform each exercise below for the number of reps listed, resting for 30 seconds between exercises. Repeat the full circuit 3 times, resting 1 to 2 minutes between sets. You will need a set of medium-weight dumbbells and an exercise mat.
1. Good Morning
Why it works: Good mornings are a running warmup staple for a reason: they activate the posterior chain, including the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
How to do it: Stand with feet about hip-width apart. With a flat back and knees slightly bent, hinge at the hips, sending the butt straight back and lowering the torso until you feel tension in the hamstrings. Keep your spine straight. Engage glutes and drive feet into the floor to stand back up. Repeat. Do 10 reps.
2. Glute Bridge
Why it works: “The basic glute bridge strengthens the glutes and hamstrings, enhances core stability, and stretches the hip flexors,” says Staples. Glute bridges are effective as a bodyweight exercise, but you can also progress the movement by adding resistance (for example, holding a dumbbell across your hips) or performing them on one leg.
How to do it: Lie face-up, knees bent, and feet planted on the floor. Drive through heels, contracting the glutes to send hips up toward the ceiling. Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to knees. Lower hips down slowly. Repeat. Do 12 reps.
3. Kickstand Romanian Deadlift
Why it works: “The kickstand Romanian deadlift is great for targeting the upper hamstrings and glutes, the primary movers in running,” Staples says. And if you’re not yet able to balance on one leg safely, using one foot as a kickstand offers additional stability.
How to do it: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with arms at sides and feet shoulder-width apart. Step right foot back so right toes are in line with left heel. Transfer most of weight to left foot (use right foot as a kickstand to maintain balance). With a soft bend in both knees, hinge at hips, by sending butt straight back, and lower torso toward floor. Keep back straight. Only lower until you feel a slight pull in hamstrings, typically right below knee level. Drive through left foot to stand back up, squeezing glutes. Repeat. Do 12 reps on each side.
4. Single-Leg Deadlift
Why it works: Besides strengthening the glutes and hamstrings, the single-leg deadlift improves stability in the foot and ankles while testing your balance.
How to do it: Start standing with weight in left hand. Shift weight to right leg, and with a soft bend in right knee, hinge at the hips by sending butt straight back. Keep back flat, shoulders down, and core engaged as torso reaches toward the floor and left leg lifts straight back behind you. Only lower until you feel a slight pull in right hamstrings; you don’t have to lower weight to ground. Drive right foot into ground to stand back up, squeezing glutes. Repeat. Do 12 reps on each side.