Training for the Hamstrings: Strengthening Using Hip Extension

The hamstrings represent a muscle group that receives a great deal of attention due to how commonly they are strained and their impact on sports performance.  Questions arise as to the most optimal way to train the hamstrings, particularly as it relates to training for sports performance and injury prevention.  Understanding the basics as to how the hamstrings function is vital in attempting to determine what are the best ways to train them.  The hamstrings are a bi-articular (two-joint)  muscle group responsible for extension of the hip and flexion of the knee.  Athletic events that involve either sprinting or dynamic movements throughout a large range of motion (i.e. martial arts, dancing) place high demands on the hamstring muscle group.  This post will be the first part on a series of posts that will examine the function of the hamstrings and how to train them for sport.  Each post will focus on different aspects of training for the hamstrings, examining different modes of training and their importance for performance and injury prevention.  This focus of this post will be on strength training for the hamstrings.

Strength training is an important component to the general physical preparation process for athletes of all sports.  When it comes to the hamstrings, it is very common for individuals participating in a strength program to focus on knee flexion based movements (i.e. leg curls) to improve hamstring strength.  While the leg curl can facilitate improvement in muscle cross section and general strength, it does not address the main function of the hamstring important in sprinting.   Sprint-based activities rely heavily on the hamstrings as an extensor of the hip, rather than a flexor of the knee  (Francis).

Strength training focusing on hip extension is more advantageous in promoting strength with carryover to sport activity.  Some good options for doing this involve variations of the deadlift exercise:

Conventional deadlift

Sumo Deadlift

Stiff-leg Deadlift

Romanian Deadlift

Sumo Stiff-Leg Deadlift

Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlift

Barbell Good Mornings

Band Good Mornings

Kettlebell Swings

(*Note:  variations of these exercises may be performed with dumbbells as well).

These exercises will focus on improving the strength of the hamstrings in their function in extending the hips.  Even for some sports activities that do not involve large volumes of (or in some cases do not involve any) sprinting, strengthening in this manner will stress the hamstrings more at the hip where more of the stress usually occurs from a range of motion and power development perspective.  For instance, when a marital artist throws a high kick, the hamstrings don’t get stressed structurally at the knee as much as they do at the hip.  Strengthening the hamstrings using these movements may help in improving the integrity of the hamstrings at their origin at the hip, rather than emphasizing their movement at the knee.

Hip extension based movements are an important component to a strength training protocol for athletes.  While there can certainly still be a time and place for knee flexion strengthening exercises, these types of movements should not be the primary mode for improving hamstring strength for an athlete.

References:

Francis, Charlie.  GPP Essentials.  www.charliefrancis.com

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