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

Misconceptions of Strength in Athletics and General Fitness II

1.   Strength training will make you slow and inflexible.

Herein lies a situation which again is dependent upon how training is implemented.  I can attest (from my experiences in training when I was younger) that if you don’t implement mobility and corrective exercise as a part of your routine, your mobility will decrease and your chances of injury will increase.  The same idea is applicable when saying that heavy strength training will make you slower.   If speed and power are important components of your training, then you need to accommodate this.  And in order to be powerful and explosive, there is something you need to consider: you need to be able to apply force.  So getting stronger is absolutely a vital training component in a speed and power athlete.  There are countless ways to do this in your training; again the important thing is understand the process and how all training modes will help you achieve your end goal.  So while you can sit there and cite bodybuilders (particularly the ones that compete in heavier weight classes) who wouldn’t be able to run and move on a football field, remember that is NOT their goal in training

If you are worried about maintaining your movement while undergoing training the slow component of strength (i.e. lifting heavier weights), utilize mobility drills and corrective exercise prehab movements to prevent injuries.

2.  If you want to lose weight, cardio is all you need.

I would think in the internet age that most people are probably past this one, but I will address it anyway because I know there are people out there that still believe this.  I am also going to lump into this discussion all of the various types of group training “classes” that don’t include any significant level of resistance training into their workouts with the intent to “tone” muscles (For the record, there is not such thing as muscle tone in the way it is described by infomercials. Tone is a function of the central nervous systems in regards to muscle activity; the tone people are usually aiming to get through training involves having low body fat and MUSCLE MASS).  Yes that is correct, you need muscle in order to have tone.  How do you do this?  Strength Training.  Now this is not to say that some type of conditioning is not important.  Everyone at some point in their training should do various types of cardiovascular/aerobic/anaerobic conditioning as a part of their exercise for overall health and well-being; and if you are an athlete, training these energy systems is all the more important in training for your sport.

In summary, if you want a complete exercise plan regardless of your fitness goals, strength training should be included.

If you get this and want to post a question on how to incorporate these variables in your training, post in the comments.

The Vault

                               
Anyone looking for a great training resourse needs to visit the EliteFTS website.  Dave Tate has put together a FREE (that’s right free) download with an abundance of information.  Anyone who is interested in strength training is probably familiar with the site.  If not you should be elitefts.com.

I became familiar with EliteFTS in the summer of 2000 when I saw Dave give a talk with Louie Simmons at a state NSCA seminar.  In 2003 I went to a Force Training Seminar given by Dave (there is a video of one of these in The Vault ebook) which really helped to shape my views on strength training.

Beyond all of this Elite is a great company.  There  products are top notch and you always get great service.  This FREE (I can’t stress that enough, this ebook could probably sell for at least $50 given what most of them go for these days) resource is a testament to a company that has a vested interest in educating individuals.

So go get it!  THE VAULT

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