Written by Mary Miller, AT, ATC
People have been running since the beginning of time and a lot has stayed the same but much has changed. People used to run without shoes and on all kinds of terrain; they were not running to decompress or exercise but out of necessity for survival. Now, so many runners are running on treadmills or pavement instead of the ground and other goals exist besides survival such as fitness, relaxation and decompression, competitiveness, health and sport. But there are three things that every runner does, no matter what: they go through a “Pose” position, a falling phase and a pulling phase where the stance leg has to take flight. Runners are different from one another in how well they execute these three positions. Running is not only a sport but is also a skill. There are no skills that need not be practiced in order to be improved upon. Some people are naturally better with certain skills but they still have to think about and practice their skills to be the best. Running is no different. In this article, we are focusing on the main function of our hamstrings during running and that is the PULL.
The average runner takes about 1500 steps per mile. But how many of us are thinking about how our feet are leaving the ground? Our hamstring muscles are on the back of our thighs and they help to bend our knees and extend our hips (bring the leg backwards). During running the hamstrings are active in our trail leg (the leg that is off the ground) while the knee is bent, and as we move forward and the hip extends. Their biggest job though is to actively PULL the stance leg off the ground quickly, moving the runner into flight phase. A majority of runners actually PUSH off the ground with their stance leg in an effort to move forward rather than pulling their leg off the ground. However, pushing only adds unnecessary strain to the back of the lower leg by raising the body upwards. And we know that if we push force into the ground, it pushes an equal force into our bodies. Simply picking our foot up, easily launches the body into the necessary flight phase of running. And our hamstrings love to do this!
Pulling reduces oxygen consumption by 20% which i why pulling properly can allow runners to run longer and increase their distance with greater ease. Pulling also increases mechanical efficiency by 50%, reducing injuries such as Achilles and calf strains and tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and high hamstring muscle strains.
The timing of the pull is also very important in injury prevention. The pull should happen as soon as the trail leg fully passes the stance leg. All of these things make it vital for runners to have great awareness of what their bodies are doing in space without having to look down at their hips and legs; this is called proprioception and can be improved with certain types of exercises that challenge your sensory feedback. Try these exercises for hamstring strength and responsiveness.
Standing Resisted pull
Tie a resistance band together in a small circle and wrap them around your feet in a figure-8 pattern, around the top of your standing foot and hooked onto the heel of your pulling leg. Quickly pull your pulling foot off the ground, feeling the work happening behind your thigh. Perform 2×15 on each leg with a light resistance band. Increase the resistance and/or repetitions as you increase strength in the hamstring muscles.
Run in place while emphasizing the height of the pull on one leg at a time by tapping the side of your foot with your hand. Perform 15-20 repetitions and then run 20-30 yards. Repeat multiple sets on each leg.
Any questions, comments, concerns or if you are struggling with an injury or pain with running, please reach out to our office so we can help keep you moving. Midland Sports Rehab is located at 4710 Eastman Avenue in Midland and can be reached via phone at 989-341-1070.