with your thighs. If you do have access to the appropriate equipment, adductor exercises can also be ahelpful part of the routine.If you don’t have access to weights on a regular basis, consider adding bridges to your routine. Bridgesinvolve lying on your back, bending your knees and placing your feet flat on the floor, and then arching your back so that you are up on your shoulders and feet. These can also be done squeezing a ball between your knees to simultaneously address adductor strength. A good set to work up to is 20 repetitions of 10 secondsup / 5 seconds rest for standard and adductor versions. Should you need to work on abductor strength for any reason, tying a resistance band around your knees and pulling your knees apart against the bandduring the bridge.Runner’s World, in the same article mentioned above, suggested a few other exercises like single-legdeadlifts and three-way leg raises; my initial experiences with these exercises have been that they do seemto isolate the glutes relatively well and are worth doing.One exercise to consider avoiding, particularly if you have a history of hamstring issues, is leg extensions.Most runners have well-developed quadriceps, and this exercise takes what is already a potential imbalanceand exaggerates it further.
The proverbial image of a runner stretching involves putting a leg up on a fence or hurdle, straightening asmuch as possible, and leaning into it to stretch the hamstring. This is far from sufficient for most runners andis another typical case of over-focusing on one type of flexibility, at the expense of others.The muscles that are often not flexible enough in runners are the same ones that are imbalanced from astrength perspective – the quadriceps. A lot of your stretching should focus on the quadriceps, using thetypical “pull your leg up behind you” approach. These can be modified into a hip flexor stretch – also anarea of particular inflexibility for runners – by putting the foot on a surface like the back of a couch andmoving the grounded foot further forward.Other areas to consider stretching include thepiriformis(part of the glutes) and the calves – both the soleusand gastrocnemius, which are addressed through the typical “lean forward and keep your heel flat”approach (the gastrocnemius, or lower calf, is targeted by bending your knees slightly during this stretch).Many yoga routines, particularly those that revolve around hip-opening lunges or quadriceps stretches,provide great flexibility improvement for runners. As always, you should listen to your body during suchroutines and avoid any stretches that feel uncomfortable – the common downward-facing dog pose, for example, does tend to aggravate already-strained or overstretched hamstrings.
Warm-Up and Cool-Down
Like all muscles, the hamstring benefits from being properly loose and warm before undergoing the stressesof a challenging run. The typical “one- to two-mile warmup” may not be enough if you are vulnerable toinjury (and, let’s face it, most of us are). Instead, there are several routines developed by Jay Johnson (hattip to Jason Fitzgerald, theonline running coach behind Strength Running, for pointing these out) that helpget you ready to run and help you cool-down appropriately, while providing for strengthening and improvedflexibility.For warm-ups, themyrtl routinehelps to loosen up the hips while incorporating some glute-strengtheningexercises; this routine involves such elements as donkey kicks, hurdle legs, and leg swings and is achievablein under eight minutes. This can be combined or alternated with alunge warm-upthat is even better from astrengthening standpoint, and can be finished in under five minutes. It is after these warm-ups that somestretching of the quadriceps and hip flexors can be even more effective in getting you prepared to run andreducing the risk of injury.For a cool-down, the somewhat lengthier cannonball routineincorporates some of the same exercises as themyrtl routine, with enough different twists to be both more interesting and comprehensive in the muscles ittargets. Even if you don’t incorporate such routines into every run, making the investment three days aweek for each not only improves you resistance to injury, it is likely to lead to passive improvements in your running form.