In this “Body Parts” series, Dimity McDowell gets you in playing shape, from head to toe.
Body part: Quads and hamstrings
What they do: The upper half of your leg, the quads (front muscles) and hamstrings (back) are the primary movers of your legs, as well the controlling muscles of the hips and knees. The quads extend the knee and bend the hip, while the hamstrings bend the knee and extend the hip.
“The muscles work together during sports,” says Joseph Potts, a strength and conditioning coach and owner of TopSpeed Strength and Conditioning in Kansas City, Mo. “The hamstrings stabilize the knee when you kick a ball, while the quads control the lower leg as you swing your leg back behind your body.”
Potts stresses the importance of training both groups of muscles equally. Paying attention only to the quads can increase the risk of hamstring strains as well as ACL injuries and leave you on the sidelines.
“You should strive to have both groups equally strong,” he says.
Used commonly when you: Kick a ball, run from second to third base, skate after a puck, land after you fire a jump shot, power up your kick in freestyle, and otherwise propel yourself forward or backward.
Three exercises to strengthen your quads and hamstrings:
Bulgarian Split Squat
How to: Start by facing away from a bench or step that is approximately knee-height and one full stride length away. Rest your right foot, laces down, on the bench. Bend your left knee — it should be lined up over your left ankle — until your right knee nearly touches the floor. Push back up through the heel of your left foot to straighten your left leg. Do 8-12 reps, switch legs. Do three sets total.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, a 5-10 pound dumbbell in each hand. Step backward with your right foot and lower your body until your right knee is a few inches off the ground. Return to starting position. Alternate legs, doing three sets of 8-12 reps. (Right + left leg lunge=1 rep.). To vary the move, step off a small — 6 inches or so — step, such as a weight-lifting platform or a step from aerobics. “That improves flexibility in the hips,” Potts says.
Stability Ball Leg Curls
How to: Lie on your back on the ground with your arms by your side, your legs straight and your heels resting on a stability ball (right). Raise your hips off the floor, then contract your hamstrings to pull the ball toward your rear end with your heels (below, right). Extend your legs to repeat one rep. “Be sure to keep your hips elevated through the entire exercise,” Potts says. Do three sets of 8-12 reps.
Let’s hear it for the quads and hamstrings: “Strong quads and hamstrings help you with pretty much everything in basketball. Strong quads allow you to accelerate and change direction quickly. Quads also help you jump higher when you are going up for a shot or blocking someone else’s. Strong hamstrings help you get up and down the floor and also protect your knees from injury.” — Ericka Simpson, senior point guard at Spring Hill (Kan.)