Most athletes have poor hamstring strength.
They get so used to running and doing everything in front of them that the hamstrings get left behind.
Hamstring strength is really important for a number of reasons. The hamstrings help provide support for the knee. They are the muscles on the back of the leg and if the front is overdeveloped we can have issues.
This is where a lot of the overuse knee injuries come into play. It is rare that someone with a really strong posterior chain experiences these ailments. It is also very common for someone to experience these ailments and lack hamstring strength.
Soccer and hockey players are two groups that I work with quite often and see this all the time. Hockey players are often very strong in the lower half. The hamstrings are usually lagging behind. Putting so much stress on the quads without the hamstrings to balance it out becomes very painful.
We see the same in soccer but sometimes that base level of quad strength might not exist yet. Sometimes these athletes are quad dominant but do not necessarily have a lot of strength in the thigh. This creates our knee and ankle issues that never seem to go away.
Good hamstring strength is not just important for durability, we must have it to perform well. A lot of athletes train to change direction quicker. Their agility needs work.
The hamstrings and glutes play a huge role in deceleration. When we are slowing down, the hamstrings are being loaded to absorb force in coming to a stop. No hamstring strength means that deceleration is going to take longer and quickness will suffer.
Improving Hamstring Strength
When it comes to hamstring exercises I really like the RDL and variations of it. The only problem with the RDL is that it doesn’t click for some athletes. Hinging the hips for them is such a foreign pattern that they need some time to figure it out.
How do we choose which hamstring exercises will best benefit our athletes?
I use a quick assessment which the FMS calls the Active Straight Leg Raise.
With the athlete lying on their back the left leg should stay flat on the ground while the right leg lifts toward the sky. Imagine a line in the middle of the hip bone and knee. The leg will not make it to that line, make it to that line, or make it past that line.
If that athlete gets to the line or beyond it then they would be on an RDL track. This assessment implies that they have the hip mobility and control to hinge the hips back and they just need to learn the movement.
The progression I would use is:
- DB RDL
- BB RDL
- SL DB RDL
If an athlete succeeds with the SL DB RDL then I would go back to loading up the DB or BB. There are a million variations of these exercises and I use many of them. When we are looking to build strong hamstrings, these 3 will get the job done.
Now if someone does not get to the line in the assessment we talked about earlier, they lack the hip mobility and/or control to hinge the hips back. This makes the RDL a very difficult exercise to learn at this time. It does not mean they will never RDL, they just need to build the core control, hamstring strength, and hip mobility to perform it.
For this athlete we would be looking more at hamstring buck and curl progressions.
- Double Leg Buck
- Single Leg Buck
- PB Hamstring Curl
- Slideboard Hamstring Curl
- GHR Leg Curl
I personally really like getting athletes to the GHR Leg Curl. An athlete that can perform these for reps is well on their way to developing a strong set of hammies.
We can also add weight or tempo to the GHR Leg Curl, giving it the ability to progress infinitely. But it is really hard and most athletes won’t be able to pull it off for a few training cycles.
Progressing over time is the best way to get really strong in the back of the legs. Choosing the wrong path to start will slow down progress and safety of the program.
This assessment only takes a minute and gives good information about what each athlete should be working on. We still have to coach it and progress it but at least we have the framework for building high performing, durable athletes.