How To Utilise Your Hamstrings When Running

heel lift treadmill

In the previous article, we took a look at the pros and cons of treadmill running. One negative aspect is the fact that the hamstrings are activated less on the treadmill as the belt assists in dragging the leg backwards. There is however a common running technique flaw that also leads to underused hamstrings.

heel lift

Take a look at the image above. Both photos are taken at the same stage of this runner’s gait who’s running at 14 kph. On the left we see very little knee bend on the back leg as the heel moves towards the back-side before beginning to swing through. This means that there’s not much hamstring activation.

On the right of the image however, we see the same runner lifting the back foot up more, shortening the lever (yellow line) between the heel and the hip. This not only leads to increased hamstring activation which is what we want, but it also places less demand on the hip flexors (muscles at the top of the front of the leg) as the increased knee bend helps that hip to move nicely into flexion and therefore into the next step. Keeping the feet low throughout your run may well lead to excessive fatigue in the hip flexors as they’re working overtime to compensate for lazy hamstrings.

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles on the back of the leg that run from the hip to below the knee, and therefore play a role at both joints. They’re relatively big muscles and as runners we want to utilise them to their full potential.

How can we put this into practice?

The next time you go for a short run (you don’t want to practice this for the first time on a long run!) have a think about whether your heel is coming up nicely at the back, or are you dragging your feet a little and putting those hip flexors under stress? If you are dragging, consciously try to gradually lift those heels a little. One thing to note though is that you want the lift to be relative to your pace. If you’re new to running for example you don’t want to be lifting your heels to your back side like Mo Farah does as that would be inefficient and exhausting. So work on it steadily, until it feels natural and if you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.

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