Hamstring injuries in sports are usually associated with overuse. The hamstrings are used so frequently, it’s easy to see how they can become so overstressed and fatigued that they end up being injured. So how can we prevent these overuse injuries from happening?
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Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs
Warm-ups and cool-downs go a long way toward preventing hamstring injuries. Keeping your hamstrings loose and properly warming them up before activity—and getting a thorough stretch and cool down after activity—are critical.
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- Light jog, 2-3 minutes
- Standing Toe Touch, 30 seconds
- Legs spread, reach left, right, middle, 30 seconds each
- Walking Lunge, 20 steps down and back
- Frankenstein Walk, 20 steps down and back
- Walking Single Leg Toe Touch, 20 steps down and back
- High Knees, 10-15 yards down and back
- 10 yard sprint, 4-6 reps
- Standing Toe Touch (feet together), 30 seconds
- Standing Toe Touch (left over right, then right over left), 30 seconds each
- Legs Spread Standing, reach left, right, middle, 30 seconds each
- Legs Spread Seated, reach left, right, middle, 30 seconds each
One mistake many coaches make is working the hamstrings too much in the weight room. Often, they believe that more work will make the hamstrings stronger and reduce injuries. More often than not, the opposite is true. A high volume of work in the weight room makes the hamstrings even more prone to injury because they never have time to fully recover.
Just think about all of the exercises and activities that heavily recruit the hamstrings: Deadlifts, Power Cleans, Snatches, Leg Curls. In addition, athletes are practicing and doing conditioning drills on several days each week, which involve plenty of running and jumping. Again, more hamstring engagement.
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Instead of hitting the hamstrings hard each workout, choose 1 or 2 exercises that recruit the hamstrings and leave it at that. You may decide to do Power Cleans and RDLs in the same workout. That’s fine, but don’t throw in Lunges or Hamstring Curls, too. It’s simply too much volume for the hamstrings to recover from and stay healthy.
Sample Leg Routine
- Warm-up, 10-15 minutes
- Power Clean, 4×3 @ 80% 1RM
- Squat, 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
- RDL or Stability Ball Leg Curl, 3×10
Eccentric training is one of the best methods of preventing hamstring injuries. Far too much emphasis gets placed on concentric movements (muscle contraction) over eccentric movements. If you think about the way the hamstrings work, most of the time they are decelerating the body’s momentum. The hamstrings are also involved in hip extension, but only as a secondary muscle. The primary muscle is the gluteus maximus.
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Think about this—when an athlete is running, the hamstrings act to decelerate knee extension upon ground contact. Then the glutes fire along with the hamstrings to flex the knee and extend the hips, which propels the athlete forward. The primary action of the hamstrings is to decelerate knee extension; the secondary action is to extend the hips. So why wouldn’t you train the hamstrings that way in the weight room?
Stability Ball Leg Curl with 5 Second Eccentric Motion
- Lie on your back with your heels on top of a stability ball.
- Lift your hips up and squeeze your glutes.
- Curl your heels in toward your glutes while lifting your hips as high as you can.
- Once you reach the top, slowly extend your feet out and away from your body using a slow five-second count.
- Never let your hips touch the ground.
- Perform 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.
- (You can also use a TRX by placing your heels in the straps and performing the same motions).
3-Second Hamstring Fall-Outs
- Assume a tall kneeling position with a partner holding your ankles.
- Slowly fall forward, resisting your body weight with your hamstrings.
- Use a slow 3-second count; do not touch the ground until you get to 3.
- Explosively push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat.
- Perform 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps.
Partner Hamstring Curl
- Lie face down on the ground or on a bench.
- Have a partner grab your ankles and provide resistance as you curl your heels toward your glutes.
- Your partner pulls your feet back toward the ground while you resist the pull using your hamstrings.
- Perform 2-4 sets of 6-10 reps.