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Sprints & Hamstring Health

With summer FINALLY upon us, and amazing weather to take advantage of, most of us are ditching the dark gym for the outdoors. And, with everyone jumping on the HIIT and sprint bandwagon, that means lots of ugly track workouts and soccer fields being used for the first time in….ever.

I’m a huge advocate of getting outside and running around like a lunatic, but there are a few things to keep in mind when making the transition from treadmill/weight training to outdoor running & conditioning.

1. If you tend to program a lot of Romanian deadlifts (and also Good Morning’s) in your workout, you’re going to want to decrease these a bit and start adding some more glute/ham raises & leg curls. The RDL specifically targets the high hamstring, but tends to leave the belly of the hamstring neglected. If there is too much emphasis placed on this movement, it tends to create an imbalance.  The result? The first time you go to run might just be the last of the summer. Be sure to adjust accordingly.

Hamstring complex

A little Anatomy note: As you can see, the biceps femoris is right in the middle. One head stretches from the ischium to the sacrotuberal ligament, and the other stretches from the linea aspera near the adductor to the high insertion near the glutes. It is the most commonly injured portion of the hamstring, particularly at that high insertion point.

2. If you haven’t been sprinting in awhile, start with stairs and/or hills. It sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. The hill doesn’t need to be dramatic, just a slight incline (~ <12% grade). The incline shortens the stride length which will protect the hamstrings and let them work up to full sprint capacity. Also, don’t worry about sprinting down the hill or down the stairs. The eccentric stress is too great & trust me – you’ll still feel it in your legs if you slow down your pace to walk down.

3. Not every workout has to be an all-out max sprint effort. In fact, it shouldn’t be. 1-2 of those a week is sufficient because they’re extremely taxing on the nervous system, even if you’re only out there for 20 minutes. It is the same as strength training. You’re not always lifting at your max, so don’t sprint at it either.

4. Stride workouts are pretty awesome. A lot of people have heard of 400m repeats, which are usually all-out sprints performed in a 60-90sec time frame with a large rest period (3-5 minutes). But for a lot of people I like using 400m repeats a bit above their mile pace with a 1:1 rest. Just take your mile time (for example: 8 minutes). This means each lap (400m) would be run at a 2 minute pace. Shoot for 2 minutes at first, with a 2 minute rest (4-6 reps).

It is less taxing on the hamstrings, helps build work capacity, and improves overall conditioning and running pace. Obviously, adjust for your goals, but if you’re just looking to improve body composition and get in running shape, these are great.

5. A dynamic warm up is important for running workouts. Get the body going & the hamstrings prepared with some drills and leave the static stretching to recovery days. Find a routine that works for you and that doesn’t take too much time. 5-7 minutes should be enough.

And last but not least..

6. RECOVER. Even if you aren’t as sore as you would be from lifting, let your body recover. You are hitting your body with a new (and intense) stimulus, and it needs time to adapt. Space out your lifting sessions and give yourself some time off. Your body – especially your hamstrings – will thank you.


Dynamic Warm up – part 2!

There are a million ways to approach the dynamic warm up but let’s be real – its a quick 5-10 minutes in your work out, and therefore, the mental brain power it takes to write one shouldn’t tax you for the rest of the day.

My favorite ways to approach it are as follows:

1. Don’t get married to this number, but usually 6 exercises written in tri-sets and performed in a circuit style are great.  Depending on your issues, you can focus on one area a little more, but generally speaking, going through both these circuits 2-3 times before each workout goes a long way.  It also takes about 5-7 minutes, which is an appropriate time for a warm up.

2. Just like with anything else, start simple.  We didn’t go from crawling to sprinting, so take it down a notch.  Start with your exercises from the floor, then progress to exercises that are standing, then finally add the multijoint movements.  All 3 can be in the same dynamic warm up, but if you’re unsure, this is an easy way to categorize where moves should go.

  • ALSO: be mindful of your equipment.  If you know you’re going to use plates, bands or dumbbells in your warm up, try to group all the plate moves together, all the band moves together and all the DB moves together so you’re not scrambling for pieces of equipment in between exercises. It sounds like common sense, but sometimes we get over ambitious thinking about everything else that we forget stupid little things.  This is a fun tip that applies for the bulk of your workout as well – if you know you’re going to do a circuit in a crowded gym, you might want to consider this in your programming.  It isn’t “wrong”, it is just realistic.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to change my “perfect” program on the fly just because of space & equipment issues.  Save yourself the stress and plan ahead.

3. When possible, pick moves that cover multiple issues in one.  The more you can get from one exercise, the better.  For example: let’s say you have tight hamstrings, hip flexors, latissimus dorsi and internal rotators (aka you’re human).  Instead of doing walking leg kicks (frankensteins) for the hamstrings, you can do a walking lunge with an overhead reach into straight leg stretch. This takes care of MOST of those issues in one simple exercise. I have a whole bunch of these that I program simply because they are time efficient and work.

For more tips & ideas, check out this post from Eric Cressey.  He always has great mobility drills – a lot of which I’ve taken for my own program & for the lacrosse girls.

I wasn’t able to film my whole warm up, but I did share a two of my favorites.  I used to have very tight hamstrings, lats and hip flexors (specifically the rectus femoris, which is the quad muscle that crosses the hip).  Aka this bad boy:

Rectus femoris muscle

With that in mind, I programmed a few drills into my warm up that have made me feel ten times better.

This is one I got from EC (yes, I’m still filming from photo booth – I was invited to the Golden Globes but I had to decline)- For this one, be sure to keep your chest up. (Even higher than I did, I’m leaning forward slightly)

This one I just combined the inchworm with a hip mobility drill (on tile, in socks, which added an extra stability component for your enjoyment)

Hope this helps – I’ll be posting better videos ASAP with the help of some friends.  Let me know if there’s some stuff you wanna see!