Hamstrings, Hamstrings, Hamstrings

I’d like to start this post out with a conversation I had about a week a go. The names are not important (John is a fictional character), however it is the ignorance and context of the conversation that inspired me to write this. I’ll pick up right around when it started getting interesting…

John: We are wasting “valuable” time in the gym doing these leg lifts (referring to a single leg supine bridge).

Me: The benefits of the supine bridge and strengthening our hamstrings is far more important than I think you realize.

John: Nobody cares about the back of our legs. Quad strength is where its at, not just for looks but on the field too. If you think about it, the only place you feel fatigued during sports is your quads anyway.

And that is where I stopped the conversation. It truly did not dawn on me until that conversation that a large number of people, whether it be the general population, athletes, weekend warriors, and so on, still do not understand that the hamstring muscles are more than just the posterior part of your thigh.

Knee pain…any of you ever had it? People often attribute knee pain solely to overuse, such as walking, running, jumping, or being “too” active. While overuse may be a contributing factor, I will make the argument that the majority of knee-pain will come from not training the posterior chain like it should be trained. And in particular, you guessed it, the hamstring group, composed of three important muscles: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and the bicep femoris. The general rule of thumb is to have a 2:1 quad to hamstring strength ratio. If this were the case and people trained there lower body this way, I assure you there would be less people who suffer from knee pain/injury.

In regards to athletic performance, the hamstrings are crucial. Evidently, based on my conversation with “John”, many still have the misconception that quad strength equals speed and power. All of the “Johns” out there could not be more mistaken. The potential speed and explosiveness that every athlete strives for is not being reached because the glutes and hamstrings and not focused on nearly as much as they should be!

Think about the hamstrings from a functional anatomy perspective…

  • Origin: ischial tuberosity (posterior side of pelvis–or the bone you sit on)
  • Insertion: tibia and fibula (bones that make up your lower leg)

What all that gibberish means?

Your hamstrings are extremely important in both flexing you knee and extending your hips. The applied functional significance of this is evident in EVERY sport.

  1. Running: Two key players in optimizing your running form are your knee drive, and being able to put power to the ground. If we revisit the physiology of the hamstrings, we see what? A direct translation to running.                       Knee flexion–>knee drive            Hip extension–>driving the ground away from you.
  2. Jumping: An optimal jump is no more than squatting down and exploding into the air as quickly and forcefully as possible. Again you will see the physiology of the hamstrings translating perfectly to the jump. Knee and hip flexion–>loading phase of the jump          Hip extension–>driving the ground away from you as you explode into the air.

These concepts may seem simple and monotonous, however I feel that if people have a basic anatomical and physiological understanding of what it is that the hamstrings do, then they will be more incline to train smarter and work there posterior chain.

You have seen that training the hamstrings are important not only to enhance athleticism and power, but for preventative maintenance as well. Now that you are more educated, its time for the implementation.

  1. Work the Posterior Chain
  • The squat is perhaps the most renowned exercise known to man. But, until you have fully activated all three hamstring muscles, and in turn improved the flexibility in your hip flexors, the squat is going to continue to over-target your quads and minimize the important recruitment of the hamstring and glute muscles.
  • My suggestion is to begin with bodyweight hamstring exercises, such as the supine bridge. Laying on your back, flex your knees at a 90 degree angle. Keeping the heels of your feet in strong contact with the ground, raise your hips (push your butt up) as high as you can into the air. Perform this as an isometric hold, or with repetitions.
       2. Work Unilaterally
  • Before your can walk, you must crawl. Starting out bilaterally, or with two legged exercises, may be necessary depending on your fitness level. However, once you master your bodyweight bilaterally, moving on to single leg work will further improve your hamstring strength. The single leg supine bridge can be performed the same way as the traditional bridge, but with one leg raised in the air.
       3. Balance Strength with Suppleness
  • Muscles are meant to contract, but not to the point that they are contracted permanently. You want to equally stretch out your hamstrings as much as you strengthen them. Too much of one without the other will result in pain, injury, or sub-optimal performance in sports. Partner stretching is ideal, however stretching your hamstrings with a band can be just as effective.
Now that you know that what you are currently doing or not doing in the gym can be easily fixed or improved…what will be your next move?  Will you continue to neglect one of the most vital muscles in your body? Or will you get out of your comfort zone, train your hamstrings like they should be trained, and reap the benefits that strong and supple hamstrings can provide you?
The choice is yours…make the decision to get better today!

Andrew Simpson IYCA-YFS

368 Athletics


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