Hamstring pulls are one of the more annoying injuries an athlete can suffer.
The pain might not be as bad as a collision based injury and the recovery isn’t as bad as an ACL but they are definitely more annoying.
The difference with hamstring injuries is that they need time to heal. We have ways to help with treatment but they definitely need to heal on their own.
This means that you might feel great two weeks after a hamstring tweak but you still need more time to avoid re-aggravating it. It also takes a slower approach to returning to sport.
A hamstring pull or strain happens when more force is placed on the muscle than it can handle.
Sprinters are particularly susceptible to hamstring injuries because of the high velocities that they sprint at. With the amount of sprinting that takes place in soccer it is also no wonder they are common in that sport.
The risk of a hamstring injury also goes up as the game goes on. The muscles fatigue as the game goes on which makes the amount of force they can handle become lower.
There are a few tips coming from the performance side of things that you can use to help reduce the risk of a hamstring injury.
Start With a Solid Warm Up Before
You have to gradually build up to the demands of what you have in front of you. If you have a practice or a game then it makes sense to get moving in a similar way. A speed and agility session should follow the same rules, mirroring what is going to happen in the session.
Most athletes half ass their warm up. They don’t really get the heart rate going, never get to a full speed run, and just go through the motions until it is time to start.
Properly warming the muscles up will allow them to be ready to handle the maximum amount of force they can. Muscles that are not ready to perform are more likely to strain.
Train for Strength
The best way to increase the amount of force a muscle can handle is to train for strength. Some of the best hamstring exercises are RDL patterns. I really like them because they contain an eccentric component.
Eccentric contractions occur during the lowering, or lengthening of the muscle. Eccentric contractions have the greatest force absorbing capabilities.
Being able to absorb high levels of force is precisely what we want to reduce hamstring injuries.
Train the Glutes
The glutes will provide support for the hamstrings. They can take some of the load off. It is much more helpful for two muscles to contribute to handling force than just one. The glute max is also one of the bigger muscles in the lower body. You want it to be helping.
Practice Going at High Speeds
If sprinting at high speeds increases the risk for a hamstring strain then we need to build up a defense to them. The body will adapt to the demands placed on it. Gradually increasing the amount of all out sprints you can do is going to decrease the likelihood of getting injured from one.
Start out small and progressively add reps. The goal here is adaptation. It takes time.
Practice Longer Sprints
Being able to sprint for a longer distance is also helpful to avoiding injury. If you are normally used to sprinting all out for 20 yards, a 40 yard effort may be too much. That is only if you are not ready for it.
Just the same as practicing high speed sprints helps your muscles adapt to those demands, sprinting for a longer distance is also important.
Start with 20 yard sprints and add 5 yards a week. You can stop adding distance at 50 yards.