Preventing Hamstring Strains
An evaluation and 9 tips to solving Hamstring Strains
Understanding Hamstring Function
In a non-functional setting the Hamstrings are used for knee flexion. Common strengthening techniques for the Hamstrings are seated or lying Hamstring Curl machines. Unfortunately, these machines don’t train the Hamstrings in a dynamic and functional setting, which hardly reduces the risk for Hamstring Strains, in fact, it may even increase the risk for injury and condone poor glute function. The Hamstrings have many different functional roles, thus, training should reflect that.
Hamstrings are not only used for Knee Flexion but also for Hip Extension, and Lower Leg Rotation. Rethink (and Retrain)the Hamstring as a stabilizer for the Knee and Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Complex, instead of just a knee flexor.
The Hamstrings are a part of two larger Sub-Systems; the Posterior Oblique Subsystem (POS) which is a chain used to stabilize the Sacroiliac (SI) Joint during twisting, upper-lower energy transfer, and running. And the Deep Longitudinal Sub-System(DLS) also involved with SI stabilization during running. Understand that if the Hamstrings are the weakest/dominant link of these Sub-Systems then the risk for injury increases.
Seek Professional Help
Find a Corrective Exercise Specialist or Health professional that can analyze your movement patterns. Overhead Squat, Static Posture, Gait, and Single Leg Squat tests are all appropriate tests to check for proper movement and correct Hamstring function. Without that help you are only shooting in the dark and wasting your money. Remember, injury prevention is about being proactive.
Tip 1: MyoFascial Release
Start at the source and branch off from there. To prevent Hamstring Strains start by Inhibiting Overactivity through myofascial release. Whether it is a foam roller, softball, or a masseuse, start the process of Injury Prevention through myofascial release techniques. This allows the Hamstrings to be further lengthened by releasing tension and improving tissue quality.
Tip 2: Stretching
Lengthen the Hamstrings through stretching techniques. Static Stretching is good, get used to doing it more often. Also focus in on Hamstring specific stretches during Dynamic warm-ups, Inchworms and Sumo Stretches are good to start with. Neuromuscular Stretching (NMS) will also improve Range of Motion (ROM), but learn the stretches with a trained professional first, they are usually performed with another person. NMS stretches are performed by stretching the specific muscle group and then activating it and then furthering the stretch, improving the ROM.
Tip 3: Hamstring Specificity
Specificity is key when it comes to the best training systems. If the movement screen shows lateral dominance of the Hamstring then releasing tension of the lateral Hamstring is suggested. Spend extra time Rolling and Stretching Lateral Hamstrings. If the Medial Hamstring is weak and overpowered then isolating and strengthening the Medial Hamstring is required. Once again, seek professional help to analyze your movement patterns.
Tip 4: Asymmetries
Leg Dominance can put unneeded stresses on the Hamstrings. Integrated exercises should be Uni/Contra Lateral to allow for equality amongst movements and masking over asymmetrical dysfunctions. Change up your squats and deadlifts to Lunges and Single Leg squats/deadlifts.
Tip 5: Shortened Hip Flexors
If you ride/row/run hills/stairmaster/sit a lot, it has the tendency to tighten the hip flexors and prevent proper glute firing. Counter-act this with additional hip flexor stretching/releasing and Glute Strengthening.
Tip 6: Anteriorly Tilted Pelvis
If your back is constantly arched and pelvis tilted forward then the Hamstrings are taking on additional stresses. Weak Glutes, Core Stabilizers and Hamstrings in relation to dominating Lats, Lower Lumbar and Hip Flexors will put additional stresses on the Hamstrings among other structures.
Tip 7: Glute Activation!
Focus in on Strengthening the Glutes! This is a huge reason why Hamstring Strains occur. Underactive Glutes allow for OverActive Hamstrings to take over during Hip Extension, acting as the primary mover. Protect the Hamstrings by training the Glutes. Train from the ground up from Activation Techniques to Integrated movement patterns that focus on Glute work. Try hip bridges, lateral band walks, lunges, and single leg squats/deadlifts over 2 leg positions. A lack of stabilization will allow for greater Glute activation.
Tip 8: Listen to your Hamstrings
Do your Hamstrings cramp up during exercises? This is a sign that your Hamstring are Overactive and need to be released. Are they constantly sore or tight? This is another sign that they may be a risk for a strain. Allow for ample recovery through myofascial release, stretching, and active recovery. Sitting down is only going to worsen the soreness/tightness. Overtraining does exist and if we stress the Hamstrings inappropriately, we run the risk for strain and dysfunction.
Tip 9: Progressive Loads
Gradually increase loads through a variety of techniques. If you can properly condition the hamstrings then they will be ready for action when you call for them to fire during high intensity or stressful loads. If we only condition the hamstrings isolated in a machine or in hip bridges then you run the risk for the Hamstring Strain if you suddenly become unstable and need to catch yourself, or run, or jump. A proper periodization program to build the Hamstrings from the ground up is the most effective way to prepare the Hamstrings (and the rest of the body).
Corrective Exercise->Stabilization->Advanced Techniques->Heavy Loads-> Explosiveness