How do unhappy hamstring muscles affect running gait? We’ve all heard about hamstring flexibility, but what about hamstring strength? And more specifically, are they firing at their proper times in order to stabilize the knee and pelvis during running? Check out a previous post to get a more thorough dissertation on hamstring function.
On a practical note, here is Brad, a former collegiate sprinter and current superstar triathlete. He has had nagging pain in his left hamstring and posterior knee. Here is video initially.
And here’s another at a faster speed.
It’s subtle, but if you compare his left knee to his right upon landing, a slight lag is present. More specifically, upon landing his right knee stays slightly bent, but his left knee has a little sloppy movement toward hyperextension. When this is present, the posterior knee joint is under stress with every step taken. Could this be a cause of your posterior knee pain?
He also shows a slight asymmetry with his arm swing, with rotation more to the left than the right. An asymmetry like this is usually tattling on the legs. For Brad, it’s a compensatory pattern to make up for his gluts not working properly.
To dig a little deeper, here’s a simple test for hamstring function. See if you can discern a difference between the right and left sides.
Of course, the best part of the this video is his son showing off, but as you can see, his left knee is slightly more wobbly than the right. This indicates a lack of stability, especially as the hamstrings and gluts come under further load.
Here is where the breakdown occurs. It is a common pattern for the gluts and hamstrings to be partners in crime. This is often a combination of lack of flexibility, as well as lack of strength under load.
So here is what we did for Brad. A simple ground reach to load the gluts and hamstrings, exploding up to a running pose.
Next a simple stretch for the gluts. Another variation can be done using a table or similar height object.
Next, power skips to develop quickness and power during the load-to-push-off transition.
And lastly, running with his arms out to the right side. This accomplishes two things. First, working on symmetry of upper body movement, and second, taking the gluts out of the equation and forcing the hamstrings to fire up more quickly.
After all this, here’s the new and improved Brad!
His upper body is symmetrical, which indicates better muscle balance through the legs. More importantly, his left knee looks more stable during the transition from loading to pushing off (other than the slight wobble on the 2nd step due to the uneven ground!). Great job Brad!
Again, what he presents with is very common and can be improved with attention to the gluts and hamstrings. If your running buddy has similar patterns or nagging issues, please pass this along!