Injuries - Hamstrung By Training Protocols!

The following are some of the key training faux pas that are increasing an athlete's risk of injuring their hamstrings. Learn why many coaches need to get their act together...

You step on the field feeling in great shape, your strength training seems to be paying off as your speed sessions allow you to channel your new found strength. Things cannot seem to be better, until during one hard driving run you feel a stabbing pain in the back of your leg.

Congratulations you've torn your hamstring. Whether you ever become the same athlete again depends upon how well you rehab. Your coach tells you these things happen. Bullsh*t I say, unless you injure yourself through contact and an acute blow, most injuries are due to ineffective training programs and an athlete being ill prepared for the task at hand.

The reason for an athlete to follow a conditioning program is for improved performance and injury prevention. Unfortunately looking at most 'sport specific' routines, the trainer is setting up his athletes for a fall.

Training Faux Pas

The following are some of the key training faux pas that are increasing an athlete's risk of injuring their hamstrings.

What Does "Faux Pas" Mean?
A faux pas, (French for false step) is a violation of accepted, although unwritten, social rules.

These are based upon professional observation and basic reasoning. I don't have streams of epidemiological data on sports injury to back these up, but sometimes you need to get your head out of the book and pay attention to what's right in front of you.

Have You Ever Torn Your Hamstring?


Quad Vs. Hamstring Strength

    Most training protocols are quad dominant either by design or through execution. Usually you see far too many quad dominant exercises within a routine; thankfully due to people such as Dave Tate, Paul Chek and others people are paying more attention to the posterior chain.

    The other fault is performing exercises in such a manner as to just mechanically load the quads rather than spreading the workload throughout the lower body - squat depth for instance.

Strength: Do You Have It? Strength: Do You Have It?
Strength training simply means the pursuit of being stronger. Somewhere down the line this theory has been lost. Many times there is too much emphasis placed on maintaining strength and not creating it.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

    So What's The Problem With Having
    Quad Dominance For An Athlete?

      Firstly it sucks, as most powerful movements in sport come from short explosive drives from the hip extensors. More importantly is the fact that during sprinting and kicking activities the hamstrings act as brakes to check the end range of movement in order to stop your knee from hyper extending and causing ligament damage.

      If your hamstring is too weak compared to you quads then one of two things will occur.

      1. The first scenario is your hamstrings will not be able to take the load developed by the contracting quadriceps and momentum from hip extension and tear.

        This is a common occurrence in hamstring injuries and is in part related to the next few issues in hamstring training in addition to the under loading seen in a lot of routines.

      2. The second issue that will be caused is a reduction in power development from the hip flexors and knee extensors as the hamstrings have to contract earlier to be able to break the ensuing movement.

        Either way the goal of injury prevention or performance increases are being muted due to under loading of the posterior chain in a routine.

Wrong Type Of Strength

    When you look at the various isokinetic studies that look at hamstring versus quadriceps strength there seems to be a concerted effort to examine concentric strength ratios between the muscles in question. The last time I checked, when the quadriceps is concentrically contracting the hamstrings will need to be eccentrically contracting to check the movement.

    Considering this I believe more emphasis should be placed upon the yielding strength of hamstrings. Its been shown that concentric type contractions will have limited appreciable gains in strength for yielding activities, as such focusing upon eccentric loading is required.

    For performance activities I don't favor slow eccentrics such as those used for hypertrophy protocols, rather I would prefer to use faster but controlled eccentric movements possibly using weight releasers or preferably bands as they tend to accelerate the movement due to stored kinetic energy.

    These kinds of loadings favorably focus upon the yielding strength of the fast twitch fibers that are going to be activated during ballistic motions. The type of exercises that are going to be favorable for these loading parameters and techniques are dependent upon the next factor of hamstring conditioning.

Muscle Fibers: How Do They Differ? Muscle Fibers: How Do They Differ?
Our body is composed of many different groups of muscles and each person has a unique composition of muscle tissue in their body.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

Training The Wrong ROM

    The vital point for hamstring contraction during sporting activities and the point they often become injured is during the swing through phase of a running gait. It's at this point the hamstrings need to be contracting to check the movement. So the hamstrings need to show great yielding strength during their distal range of motion as both the knee is extended and the hip is flexed.

    So why do so many programs strengthen the hamstrings with leg curls where the hips are extended and the knee are flexed, often kept in this state, in order to keep peak tension on the muscles?

    We know that strength gains are more evident in the range of motion trained so the hamstrings need to be strengthened when the knee is extended and the hips are flexed - such as during good mornings, Romanian deadlifts and the outer range of reversehypers. Combining the first two with bands is a good starting point for effective hamstring conditioning for an athlete.

High Intensity Interval Training! Harbinger Presents:
Resistance Adjustable Cable.

Harbinger Bands are designed to shape, tone and further define your muscles. Our guide of variable resistance exercises will help you to increase lean muscle mass and improve overall body composition.
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    Before any of you get the wrong idea I'm not against leg curls, they have there place in aiding the hamstrings growth and ensuring all around development.

    For athletes the better options are seated versions due to the hips being flexed. These are even better when performed with bands as again they accelerate the eccentric. However they should take a back seat to hip dominant exercises which load the hamstrings.

Synergistic Dominance:

    When there is an over loading of one muscle antagonist shortening of the muscle can occur and inhibition of the antagonist is apparent (reciprocal inhibition - check out Dave and Alwyns gluteal amnesia article on for more practical evidence of this).

    The problem with this is, and any movement that involves these muscles that are inhibited, will mean a corresponding increase in workload for the synergistic muscles.

    For most athletes who follow the aforementioned anterior dominant programs there is an over load for the hip flexors and an inhibition of the glutes which results in the hamstrings taking even more workload when there is hip extension or antagonistic firing for hip flexion.

    This is a simple process to avoid by ensuring that the hip flexor remain adequately flexible (the level of flexibility will be dependent upon your chosen sport) and that the aforementioned hip extension exercises like good mornings and deadlifts are performed.

Unilateral Absence:

    There seems to be a distinct lack of unilateral loading seen in most programs. Single leg exercises are key in aiding maximal strength from an athletic stand point. Some research shows that bilateral training modalities lack the ability to provide significant strength adaptations for unilateral movements such as sprinting.

    What Does "Unilateral" Mean?
    Of, on, relating to, involving, or affecting only one side.

    Whether you believe this or not it makes sense to include some unilateral work into the program in order to develop strength within fixators and neutralizers which will aid in increasing force production within the prime movers.

    In addition this can aid in avoiding imbalances between lateral limbs which has been shown to increase possible chance of injury due to increased rotational forces generated.

    I would not use unilateral exercises exclusively as they inhibit the load that can be employed but as competition gets nearer I would employ more unilateral work or for those following concurrent periodization I would ensure that my supplemental exercises included some unilateral deadlifts.

    Click Image To Enlarge.
    Unilateral Deadlifts With Dumbbells.


Don't be put on the side line with a hamstring injury or let your ineffective training reduce your true potential.

Although this article went in to a fair amount of detail the take home message is very simple:

  • Include hip dominant exercises that train the glutes and hamstrings through an extended range of motion.
  • Focus on yielding strength.
  • And include some unilateral exercises closer to competition time.