Due to a knee injury several years ago and spats of runners knee ever since, I’ve been particularly aware of tell-tale signs that I might be aggravating those injuries. One of these signs is when my hamstrings are particularly tight.
Here’s a workout that I created this week to exercise the hamstrings and thighs. Even though it’s not a perfect workout, it’s customized for hamstrings specifically. I’m learning how to get the timing and instructions right, it’s definitely a challenge that has made me appreciate just how awesome my teachers are in class.
There have been a few studies done on women to show what types of exercises work to strengthen hamstrings in particular. One method is to do a single leg wall squat instead of a regular wall squat.6 Plyometric training can also strengthen hamstrings in particular.7 From personal experience, any type of a forward fold (whether it is standing, sitting or laying down) will stretch out your hamstrings, which can also help improve flexibility and prevent injuries. Focusing on hamstring strengthening and flexibility regularly is also helpful in cross-training for high-impact sports like running, especially for women.
Background on the gender hamstring imbalance
The hamstring to quadriceps ratio is a measure of the relative strength of the muscles running along the back of your thigh (the hamstrings) compared to those running along the top of your thigh (quadriceps). Starting during puberty, muscle development in the upper legs differs between men and women. Although researchers are not yet sure why, they have observed that men develop strength more evenly in their upper legs, while women’s hamstrings lag in development compared to the quadriceps.1
An imbalance between the hamstrings and quadriceps is directly linked to knee injuries because it leads people to place uneven stress on the knee joint. Women are more likely to get injured in the hamstring and knee area. In particular, women are 4 to 6 times more likely than men to injure the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which is in the knee. 2
The imbalance is apparent in several recent studies; women see greater improvement from upper leg resistance training on hamstrings than quadriceps, while the inverse is true for men.3At the same time, it is harder for women to exercise their hamstrings specifically 4, because the quadriceps are much stronger and the body compensates toward using stronger muscles.5