According to research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, athletes are more likely to be sidelined by a hamstring injury than any other muscle related injury. A pulled hamstring or hamstring strain is an injury to one or more of the muscles at the back of the thigh. The good news is that most pulled hamstrings don't require surgery and heal on their own. Unfortunately, a pulled hamstring, depending on its severity, can put an athlete out of action for a number of weeks.
Common sense would tell you that static stretching should help prevent hamstring injuries; most athletes turn to static stretching to "loosen" the muscles and improve flexibility. Recent research, however, suggests that flexibility can be improved just as much by included eccentric exercises in your training with the added benefit that eccentric exercises will make you incredibly strong!
In this post, we'll show you three hamstring exercises to include in your training to help you build strength, increase flexibility and prevent season-ending injuries.
ECCENTRIC MUSCLE ACTION DEFINED:
Eccentric muscle contractions occur when a muscle lengthens as it contracts. Think of the downward motion in a bicep curl; as you lower the weight, your bicep lengthens but is still contracted in an attempt keep gravity from pulling the weight towards the floor.
HOW HAMSTRING INJURIES OCCUR:
Eccentric hamstring muscle overload is the primary cause of most hamstring injuries. Eccentric overload is when the muscle is stretched beyond its capacity with a sudden load. The muscle is compromised because it is not strong or flexible enough to withstand the amount of force placed on it. As a result, the hamstring muscle tears.
Running fast requires an athlete to apply massive amounts of force on the ground very quickly. If the athlete’s hamstrings are not properly conditioned, he or she will not have the necessary muscle balance to improve speed and could ultimately risk injury out on the field.
FOUR RISK FACTORS THAT WILL INCREASE THE RISK OF A HAMSTRING INJURY:
Muscle imbalance - Muscle imbalances in the thigh are one of the most common reasons athletes suffer from hamstring injuries. When one muscle group is much stronger than its opposing muscle group, the imbalance can lead to a strain. The quadriceps, located at the front of the thigh consist of four muscles that, as a result of training, are more powerful than the three muscles of the hamstrings. A lack of focus on building hamstring strength leads to dominant quadriceps that are more powerful and more resistant to fatigue. These power and conditioning imbalances can eventually lead to a strain.
Muscle fatigue - As the muscle gets tired, it's more susceptible to injury. Muscle fatigue can be avoid through proper supplementation and conditioning.
- Supplementation - Creatine, caffeine and beta-alanine can help speed recovery and improve strength and stamina.
Proper Training - Proper training will ensure that the hamstring muscles are able to withstand the large amount of force required to propel an athlete down the field. Proper training will also ensure that the muscle is conditioned to apply force quickly and violently many times without injury. Non-linear periodization has been shown to increase strength more significantly than other program structures. Incorporating a mixture of rep ranges, rest between sets, and loads should optimize strength gains and prepare the hamstring muscles for a multitude of sport-specific tasks.
Muscle tightness - Tight muscles can increase the likelihood of a strain. Athletes typically turn to a variety of hamstring stretches to improve flexibility, but as we'll learn, you can killed two birds with one stone by incorporating eccentric hamstring exercises into your routine, improving BOTH hamstring flexibility and strength.
REPLACE HAMSTRING STRETCHES WITH ECCENTRIC HAMSTRING EXERCISES TO IMPROVE FLEXIBILITY AND STRENGTH
The common believe is that lifting weights makes you stiff and inflexible. New research suggests that lifting can simultaneously improve strength and flexibility. One study compared improvements in hamstring flexibility from eccentric hamstring training and static hamstring stretches.
Researchers found that improvements in flexibility with eccentric hamstring training were equal to those made by statically stretching the hamstring muscles.
HOW TO INCORPORATE ECCENTRIC HAMSTRING TRAINING INTO YOUR ROUTINE (Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced)
ECCENTRIC GLUTE HAM RAISE (GHR):
Muscles are approximately 40% STRONGER during eccentric contractions (extending out during the GHD raise, muscle lengthening) than during concentric contractions (pulling yourself up, muscle shortening.) To perform an eccentric GHR, start at the top of the GHR, and slowly lower yourself to a 10 count at a consistent pace.
ROMANIAN DEAD LIFTS (RDLs):
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward with a slight bend in your knees. Much like those creepy fake drinking birds, you'll bend forward, hinging at the waist. The key is to stick your butt back and keep your back flat as a board. Depending on how flexible you are, you may or may not be able to touch the ground initially. If you're not able to touch the ground right away, don't worry; you'll get there. Be cautious with the amount that you start with, because RDLs will make you incredibly sore.
ECCENTRIC GHR + REPS
As we mentioned above, muscles are approximately 40% stronger during eccentric contractions. Eccentric training is a great way to build strength quickly. Eccentric GHR + Reps is probably the toughest glute ham raise variation. With this exercise, you're skipping guns and switching straight to missiles!
- Beginner Routine: 10 Second Eccentric/Negative Lowering + 8-10 Reps × Repeat 1
- Intermediate Routine: 10 Second Eccentric/Negative Lowering + 8-10 Reps × Repeat 2
- Advanced Routine: 10 Second Eccentric/Negative Lowering + 8-10 Reps × Repeat 3
- Elite Routine: Weighted 10 Second Eccentric/Negative Lowering + 8-10 Reps × Repeat 1/2/3 (See what you can work up to!)
Replacing static hamstring stretches with eccentric hamstring exercises will allow you to simultaneously improve flexibility and strength. It's a win-win and a no brainer, really.
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