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Despite the hamstrings arguably being the most important muscle group for athletes, they are often laggards in physique competitions. You may see an entire lineup of bodybuilders with massive upper bodies and thick quads, but few will have well-developed hamstrings. During training, all injury mechanisms should be considered, depending on the type of sport and performance goal. In addition, functional training should be provided so that strength is built up specifically for the requirements and function of the sport in question. An individual combination of hip- and knee-dominant exercises as well as exercises that use the muscles concentrically, eccentrically and isometrically is ideal. An increased eccentric load on the hamstrings has a positive effect on the muscle fiber length in particular, which protects against hamstring injuries.
Floor glute-Ham Raise
The poor man’s version of the glute-ham raise is significantly harder than the original. You can’t quite get all the benefits of the full version off of the floor, but this will be the hardest knee flexion exercise you can do. Most people will not be able to do this movement at first, so I recommend using a band, a training partner, or using a push-off to bring the difficulty down a notch.
A balanced training program that challenges the muscles in a variety of ways should include the following components
- Mobilisation and activation of the hip muscles
- Trunk stabilization: anti-rotation (anti-twist), anti extension (anti stretching), anti flexion (anti-flexion)
- Concentric, eccentric and isometric strength training
- Bilateral and unilateral exercises for the lower extremities
- Hip and knee dominant and integrative exercises: Isolation and complex exercises
- Explosive force development: Reactive plyometric contents
- Mechanics of jumping, landing and cushioning: Leg axis stability
- Accelerating, braking and accelerating again: Sprint mechanics
- Sports-specific requirements in the context of directional change.
Eccentric force compared to concentric force
In principle, muscle strength adapts to the specific requirements of training and everyday life: “use it or lose it”. By increasing eccentric training, the eccentric force can be increased compared to the concentric force and vice versa. Eccentric training also has positive effects on tendon stiffness and other performance determining factors. Hip-stretching exercises in particular are beneficial for the functional strength of the entire hamstring. Strengthening the joint hip extension muscles at the buttocks and hips relieves the hamstrings.
The right choice of exercises
When selecting exercises, you should therefore choose exercises that place more stress on the medial parts of the hamstrings that are located in the middle of the body, such as Kettle bell Swing or Deadlift, as well as exercises that place greater demands on the lateral parts (Leg-Curl variants, Hip Extension, lungs).
The total volume of the medial parts of the hamstrings is larger than that of the lateral parts. Due to this, the lateral parts are subject to a higher risk of injury, which is also reflected in an increased frequency of injuries. On the other hand, the medial parts of the hamstrings are more strongly activated under high loads, such as maximum sprints.
As a result, various exercises should be involved in training in order to develop the medial and lateral parts in the best possible way and thus prepare them for high-intensity loads, such as sprints. For this reason it is also necessary to train the hamstrings with different load stimuli and execution speeds.
Reactive plyometric exercises
Plyometrics exercises, or jump exercises, or are one of the most effective ways to increase your reactive strength in sport, athletics and general fitness. Increasing your reactive strength means you can run faster, kick harder and move more forcefully and efficiently. Performing any explosive movement, such as changing direction rapidly, sprinting and kicking will benefit from practicing plyometrics exercises. Plus, they are a fun addition to your exercise routine. However, the exercises performed in strength training to increase the eccentric strength of the hamstrings are mainly performed slower than the corresponding movements in the actual sport for which training is being performed. Therefore it is recommended to integrate reactive plyometric exercises in different movement planes, in the sagittal and frontal plane, as well as sprints with maximum speed into the training program.
Athletes, basketball and football players all need the capability to hurdle over someone, reach for a ball, or jump on command. These types of elite athletes are asked to have great body control in unpredictable circumstances; that’s why these types of athletes incorporate plyometric exercises in their training regimes.
Compared to classical strength training, plyometric training leads to other adaptations: Plyometric exercises lengthen the tendons, while strength training leads to an increase in tendon firmness. Both factors protect against hamstring injuries. This also speaks for a variable training concept characterized by different requirements. The lower the eccentric force of the hamstrings, the more prone they are to injury.
Functional strength training for the rear muscle chain
Hamstrings are also often overloaded during hip extension when the gluteal muscles have to work concentrically but are too weak. Functional strength training for the rear muscle chain, which takes up both aspects, effectively prevents injuries. In addition, bilateral exercises should be supplemented by unilateral exercises as soon as they can be performed in a stable manner, in order to train even more specifically towards the performance goal. In this context, exercises in the closed and open kinematic chain should be variably integrated.
An athlete at a high performance level will no longer achieve an increase in performance through guided exercises alone, such as the leg press or bend in a seated position. In summary, a holistic approach to reducing hamstring injuries is recommended – consisting of hip and knee dominant exercises in strength training as well as acceleration and sprint training at maximum speed. Sprints should include directional changes and braking maneuvers, and muscles around the hip and ankle should be mobilized. In addition, training can be done in a methodical series. A sequence of exercises is trained.
Example exercises for strong and healthy hamstrings
Depending on the level of performance and the quality of execution by the athlete, a regression is achieved by facilitated exercises or progression by more difficult exercises. In the exercise section later in the article, a selection of functional exercises is presented with which a training of the hamstring musculature can be variably designed. The complete exercise program can be found here in the book of our authors:
STRONG AND HEALTHY HAMSTRINGS
More leg strength and mobility as well as fewer injuries through training of the ischiocrural muscles
The posterior thigh muscles, also known as ischiocrural muscles, are particularly prone to injury during sport. Current statistics, especially from football and American football, show that despite active prevention in training and match preparation, the high injury rate of hamstrings in competition has remained constant over the last ten years and even increased due to higher training requirements.
The functional effectiveness of this muscle group is often underestimated, but the high susceptibility to injury can be prevented by differentiated training.
In this guide, the authors take a holistic view of the ischiocrural musculature, explain the bio mechanics clearly and present risk and protection factors based on the latest scientific findings.
Effective prevention strategies, training methods such as functional strength and mobility training, numerous reactive plyometric exercises, which are described and illustrated in detail, as well as suggestions for program design can be put into practice immediately.
We can only warmly recommend this book to you! It offers the currently most comprehensive guide to the muscle group of hamstrings in German-speaking countries.
Rolling out the rear thigh muscles
Strained musculature: Through the targeted unrolling of the entire posterior thigh musculature, all parts of the hamstrings are worked with the roll.
- Place the roll under the rear thigh muscles of the right leg just above the knee joint while the left leg is angled next to the roll. Support your hands on the floor below your shoulders. From this position lift the buttocks slightly.
- Roll out the back of the thigh from above the knee joint to the gluteal muscles, rolling back and forth. Make sure that you also work the inner, middle and lateral parts of the muscles. Rotate your leg to the left and right. Then change the leg.
It is important to perceive the strained musculature directly and to reduce or increase the pressure depending on the intensity of pain. Higher pressure can be produced by higher weight, for example by lifting the angled leg off the floor.
The aim is not to remain statically on a trigger point, but to work on it in a targeted manner by stroking out the entire muscle pull. The processing time is therefore very individual and can be between 30 seconds and 2 minutes per muscle or muscle group. The effect of myofascial release can be increased by targeted inhalation and exhalation during tissue processing.
Exercise to activate the trunk and hip muscles:
Strained musculature: The hip flexors of the psoas group are particularly strained. In addition, the trunk and pelvic stabilisers are also activated: Since the support is reduced by lifting one leg off the ground, Plank Hip Flexion places increased demands on the torso-stabilizing muscles.
- Take a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Make sure you have a stable torso and a neutral lumbar and pelvic position so that you neither stretch your buttocks upwards nor sag in the middle of your body. Your body forms a line from head to toe.
- Tighten the hip-bending muscles and thereby lead a knee joint actively to the chest Hold this position for 10 to 20 seconds and repeat the exercise 3 to 4 times per leg.
Functional Strength Training for Hamstrings
RFE Split Squat
- In the starting position you start standing upright in a step position, the step width is about two foot lengths. The heel of the front foot is placed under the knee joint, the rear foot or back of the foot on a step, which is adjusted to about 30 to 40 centimeters height, or a bench. Tilt your upper body slightly forward so that your body forms a line from the shoulders to the knee joint of your rear leg. In this way, you avoid overstretching your lumbar spine. Cross your arms behind your head.
- Now lower yourself vertically downwards until your rear knee almost touches the ground. Keep the position short and then push yourself from the front heel back up to the starting position or to the complete hip extension. In the stretching movement you breathe out. Now change your legs. Repeat 8 to 10 times with each side.
Maybe you know the Rear Foot Elevated (RFE) Split Squat under another name, often it is also called increased Split Squat or Bulgarian Split Squat. A special feature of this squat variant is that the rear foot stands on a raised surface which makes the exercise more difficult.
Reactive plyometric exercises
Strained musculature: In Box Jump, the entire extensor and flexor chain of the legs is strained in the take-off and landing phases.
- Take a stand slightly wider than your hip. Your feet and knee joints are slightly rotated outwards for more leg axis stability. Lower your center of gravity slightly by bending your hip and knee joints for acceleration when jumping off. Use your arms to support the swing with a swing-out or counter-movement movement.
To do this, stretch them backwards in the starting position. Make sure that the torso is as tight as possible.
- Jump from this position onto the box by pushing your legs upwards and swinging your arms forwards at the same time. Focus on the box during the jump and concentrate on a safe landing.
- Land with both feet on the box. The end or landing position on the box corresponds to the starting position. After each jump, step off the pit with one step. Perform 6 to 8 jumps.
The focus of the Box Jump is on the two-legged landing on a moderately high box of about 40 to 50 centimeters height, not on the jump height. The aim is to accelerate the jump from a stable, two-legged athletic starting position with a counter movement of the arms and the body’s centre of gravity. The most common error pattern is the X-leg movement in the knee joint when jumping off and landing, i.e. whenever the muscle chain is loaded.
Exercises with sprint and direction change requirements4
Sprint autumn speed with sprint
Muscles under strain: Acceleration Sprints use the entire extensor and flexor chain of the legs with maximum torso and pelvis stabilisation to ensure the knee lift and impression phase.
- in the starting position, take a position about the width of your hips with your body upright. Keep your arms straight next to your body.
- In the next step, let yourself be tilted as far forward as possible. Keep your body in line.
- Shortly before you are no longer able to hold the forward inclination by your own strength, lift one leg in an active knee stroke and push yourself up and forward out of the standing leg. The arms support the acceleration in arm-leg-cross coordination. Take a quick step forward and then accelerate to a maximum of 100 percent.
The focus is on hip extension during the stretching and impression phase of the leg from the ground. Torso and leg axis stability are basic prerequisites for movement.
The acceleration run should be over 10 to 20 meters, after which you change to the
the leg that makes the crotch first. Perform 2 to 3 sprints per side.
During the exercise, pay particular attention to the knee stroke and impression phase, supported by the counter movement of the arms. Be careful.