Hamstring Pulls: Why and How to Prevent them

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At work, we have been getting a lot of athletes back into training since summer is approaching.

This is awesome because a lot of the kids are in college and it has been 9-10 months since we have seen a lot of them.

The same goes for high school athletes that have played a spring sport.

The seasons are wrapping up and the athletes are getting ready for the fall.

One thing I have noticed is that an inordinate number of athletes are showing up with hamstring injuries. None of them are serious pulls but they are enough to limit their ability to train.

In the course of a week, we have had to modify programs for 4 different people.

Hamstring strains or pulls are a result of shortness or weakness in the muscle. With the hamstrings, the shortness is the less common culprit.

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Weak hamstrings are an injury risk to athletes because most sports involve running, in some capacity.

Every time we take a stride the body has to decelerate forces of up to 7x body weight.

Which muscle is responsible for this? That is right, the hamstrings.

Not only does the muscle group have to take on extreme force absorption, they are usually doing it despite muscular imbalance in the lower leg.

Sports are quad dominant. The front of the legs is always way more developed than the back. This creates the imbalance of strength.

The hamstrings are never going to be as strong as the quads while playing sports, but the idea is to lessen the gap as much as possible.

When the quads are super strong, they can get the body moving very fast. When it is time to slow down or decelerate the limb, the hamstrings are not up to snuff. Result: hamstring strain or pull.

Ways the Hamstrings Get Injured

1. Too much, too quickly

Usually, the beginning of seasons or training after a long layoff is a recipe for injury.

The body is usually not conditioned and the athlete tries to go from 0-60 without the proper preparation.

The hamstrings are weak and not yet adapted to the demands of the upcoming activity.

This can be pre season for sports, the beginning of off season training with someone who has experience with training.

The first day, the athlete tries to go all out, like before, yet the body is not ready for it.

2. Too much in general

Its always interesting hearing hamstring stories. Sometimes the injury happens because someone sat on their butt all summer and then pulled it on the first day of soccer (above examples).

On the other hand there are the kids that are playing nonstop, year round soccer. Their hamstrings should be plenty strong and ready to take on the demands of the game, right?

Nope, their quads are too strong and the hamstrings have fallen behind.

Also, recovery becomes an issue here because a fatigued muscle cannot optimally perform.

If the muscle is incapable of handling the demands of the game, it is going to get injured.

Sports have seasons for a reason. They are meant to break up the monotony of playing one sport all of the time.

Those that are not well rounded seem to get injured more and become less successful down the road.

3. Too much load

Load does not just pertain to weight on the bar here. Range of motion is also at play.

The same weight performed with more range of motion results in more load placed on the muscle.

Off season programs start once school is out for the summer.
Some kids took time off from lifting in May for finals and end of the year activities.

This means that some detraining has set in and the muscles will be a little bit weaker.
The weight needs to be adjusted or else disaster can set in.

Again, the principle remains the same: too much demand placed on the muscle is going to result in injury.

Ease your way back into lifting if you had a layoff.

Preventing Hamstring Injury

Preventing hamstring injuries for sports comes down to 2 themes, strength and mechanics.

There is a right and wrong way to decelerate the body when changing direction.

Most athletes are trying to stop hard and change fast.

They really need to work their way into the change by taking small steps and sinking the hips.

The best way to prevent hamstring injuries is to train the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings).

The posterior chain is the best line of defense in most sports. They both work to balance out the quads.

They are also both active in decelerating the body when running.

Everything I said above about hamstring weakness, etc. can also be applied to the glutes.

Weak glutes means that we are going to have problems.

Strengthening the lower body is best done through hip extension. This means skip the hamstring curl machine.
RDLs, deadlifts, rack pulls, Glute ham raises, and hip thrusts are some of the best ways to work on the posterior chain.

Get strong and injury risk seems to lessen proportionally.