Friday, June 18, 2010

Substitute blogger.

He folks, Angela has some more long days of work so here I am.  I really like the questions and feedback so don't be afraid to speak up if you want more information. 

I have a hot little topic that is screaming to be heard.  We talked about the feet, lower leg and knee so now its time for hamstrings.

Beside being the most delicious sounding muscle group in the body, hamstrings are some of the most neglected and abused by modern living. 

See the image below for the location of the hamstring.  
 Ooops wrong image.

The hamstring is composed of four muscles but for our purposes understanding the two big ones, the semitendinosus and larger of the biceps femoris, will suffice.  The hamstring is used to articulate two joints the hip and the knee.  That's right.  You heard me, two joints.  I'm geeking out here.  The hamstring extends the thigh at the hip and rotates the hip as well as curls the lower leg at the knee.

Most people, the old me included, do not understand the big deal about hamstrings.  It seems like they are just there to straighten our leg after the real muscles in the quadricepts to the work in life.  This is a mistake in two ways.  First the hamstrings are recruited in many of the quadricept powered lifts by virtue of their hip extension function.  Second the hamstrings provide half the propulsion in running and are the primary motivator in particular running contexts.

To understand the hamstring in running lets look at how they are used by four legged runners.  Four legged animals pull with their front legs and push with their back legs. 
Now consider when they jump.  The jumping action is all pushing off with the back legs. 

Now which image invokes a greater intuitive sense of speed.  Many would say the jumping horse.  Most people run like they are riding two jumping horses with every step being a huge push followed by a crashing impact on the other leg.  That is because they associate speed with the high intensity of the push off rather than the balance of an even stride.  The horse knows better and he uses the push pull system with its greater efficiency when he wants to go fast. 

The pulling action of the hamstrings to increase your running efficiency is what many people are missing in there running form and that's were the hamstring problems come from.  Strong contractions of the hamstring through a wide range of motion are hard to come by.  Running with proper form provides that range and conditioning.  Without it the hamstrings become weak and tight.  The older we get the greater the imbalance between our quad and hamstrings get leading to knee problems and the weaker and tighter out hamstrings get leading to pull and tears. 

Now lets look at some running contexts.  Most runners prefer very much to run uphill.  Running uphill is like a series of jumps without the impact because you stay at the top of the jump.  It is all quad and suits most peoples notion of what running is.  Most runners do not like downhill because it is so jarring if you try and use the predominately push movement of running.  Good downhill running is almost completely pulling with the hamstrings something many of us have not gotten good at. 

It takes time to fix ones imbalances and learn to use your hamstrings to pull yourself forward in running.  The muscles will need time to catch up and your speed and distance may drop.  Learning to do so will ultimately make you a faster, stronger runner in every way.

Jaymon Hotz

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