Even the most developed runners find themselves wanting to shave time off their sprints, but doing so is sometimes easier said than done. When all other options fail to produce the desired results, there’s one often overlooked set of muscles that can make all the difference in the world – the hamstrings.

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run up the back of the leg at the thigh. They provide the flexibility needed for the leg to bend at the knee. When they’re limber and well developed, they can help runners sprint faster and perform better overall. When they’re not in tiptop shape, they can get in the way, slowing down a run. Or, worse – they can be the source of injury; sidelining runners and other athletes due to strains and pulls.

Preparing the Hamstrings for a Run

Just like any other muscle in the body, the hamstrings should be properly warmed up and stretched out before a run. They should also be properly fueled with a healthy diet and plenty of water to keep them healthy, strong and limber.

When it’s time to work out this particular muscle group to help get ready for a run, there are many exercises that can assist. There’s one, however, that really challenges the hams and helps them better assist with push off speed (launch) and sustained speed.  Simple variations of the stability ball bridge can make all the difference.

Here’s how to get it done:

When performing a standard stability ball bridge, dig into the ball tightly with the ankle flexed upward.  Your toes should point toward your shins. To add the variation, just extend your ankles so they point away from your shins and extend your legs (much more difficult!).  This causes the hamstrings to work harder.

Other Tips for Hamstring Health

When the goal is to speed up sprint times, there are other steps that can be taken to improve hamstring performance and overall ability to compete. When training for a big race or just a jog around the block, be sure to:

  • Eat right – Good nutritional health is critical for performance. This means eating a balanced diet that’s rich in vitamins and minerals and low in fat.
  • Warm up – Before hitting the road for a run, take the time to properly stretch out and warm up all the muscles – not just the hamstrings. Proper preparation can increase speed while reducing the chances for injury.
  • Get professional advice Don’t overlook the role a personal fitness trainer can play in helping increase running speeds. Stop by a local gym or fitness center to talk with a pro in the know about putting together a training program that balances running goals with body health and common sense.