Hamstring pulls and strains are really annoying.
They can keep athletes off of the field and they take a long time to recover from. The worst part is that the only real treatment to the muscle itself is rest and compression.
It takes some serious patience to come back from a hamstring injury. Take Gronk for example at the beginning of this season.
Hamstring strains also seem to come out of nowhere. They are a non-contact injury with almost no indication that it is coming.
A muscle will strain if the demands placed on it are greater than the ability of the muscle to handle.
That is a pretty vague mechanism for hamstring injuries but sprinting seems to be a culprit. The hamstrings must absorb a lot of force when sprinting, but what if it was more about positioning than anything else?
Muscles can be weak in both a short and lengthened state and both can contribute to strains.
Generally, speaking a muscle is stronger when it is shortened. Muscle contractions occur by shortening the muscle. If you have strong hamstrings then they are probably strong in the shortening phase.
A lack of core stability can have some effects on the lower body. Without anterior core control, the pelvis will tend to tip forward.
The hamstrings also attach to the pelvis and help to posterior tilt the pelvis. If the pelvis is titled forward, then the hamstrings will be lengthened.
This lengthening makes the hamstrings weaker than if they were at their normal resting state. Sprinting, jumping, and cutting in anterior tilt can increase the risk of straining a hamstring.
This is why we need to strengthen a couple of areas in order to counteract this risk.
Anterior Core Control
Anterior core control is the body’s ability to resist excessively arching the back. When most people reach overhead their ribs will flare up. The core is completely off at this point.
Unfortunately, I have not done an assessment in ages where an athlete did not flare their rib cage.
Anti-Extension will do the trick to help improve core stability.
I like the single leg lower because it involves core stability with the hamstrings in a lengthened state.
The bodysaw is a good exercise to avoide arching the back. Lock that plank position in while moving the arms.
Using the Overhead Kneel to Stand can help teach the athlete to resist arching their back while moving through the lower body.
Eccentric Hamstring Strength
Training the hamstrings to be strong in a lengthened state can be done with eccentric hamstring work. The goal is to use a long tempo as we lower down. The following exercises are two of my favorite.
It would be shortsighted not to address sprinting mechanics. A lot of athletes run in anterior tilt. If it looks like they run with their butt sticking out, it could be what I am talking about.
Athletes should be encouraged to squeeze their glutes and abs to posterior tilt the pelvis. This is going to insanely difficult for them. It is going to take a lot of practice. Once the pattern is grooved we can reinforce it with some acceleration drills.
A hamstring injury can be frustrating. If you are not currently incorporating these things in your program, now is the time to start. A hamstring strain might not be 100% preventable but this will be a solid strategy to reduce your chances.