All too often we still hear about the dreaded “pulled hamstring.” Now it’s time to give your hamstrings a fighting chance! In the not so distant past, it was believed that stretching the hamstrings was the best way to prevent a hamstring strain. Yet, lo-and-behold, hamstring muscles continued to suffer from injury over and over again. More recently, successful prevention strategies have included a combination of dynamic warm-ups and targeted exercises, including:
- Trunk and lumbopelvic control exercises (to promote motor control throughout your trunk, low back, pelvis and hip)
- Eccentric hamstring strengthening (isolated hamstring exercises targeted at strengthening the muscle as it lengthens)
- Quadriceps and iliopsoas flexibility exercises (to increase flexibility of the muscles at the front of your hip and thigh)
So how do you put all of that into practice? A sport-specific dynamic warm-up should be performed prior to any workout or competition, and may include such movements as cariocas, side shuffles or high knees. A licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer or certified strength and condition specialist can help you develop a complete program tailored to your sport. Some examples of exercises that might be included in your prevention program include:
Side Plank (for core, trunk and hip control):
Begin side-lying with forearm on the ground. Engage abdominals and glutes as you push your hips up through your forearm and feet and straighten out into a side plank. Reach the top arm up to the ceiling. Hold.
Begin with 10-15 second holds and gradually increase endurance over time.
Nordic Hamstring Exercise (for eccentric hamstring strengthening):
Start kneeling, knees hips width apart, arms out in front of you and feet supported with a spotter holding your ankles.
Slowly lower yourself forward towards the ground, landing on your hands:
Use your arms to push back up. Begin with 2-3 sets of 5 reps and gradually increase volume over time.
Hip Flexor Stretch (for quadriceps and hip flexor flexibility):
Start kneeling with the knee of the target hip down. Chest up and shoulders back. Tuck your pelvis under and engage your glute until a gentle stretch is felt in front of your target hip. You may raise the arm of the target hip for more of a stretch.
Hold 20 seconds, 3-5 repetitions on each side.
Andrea Papson is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Certified Sports Specialist, Certified Athletic Trainer, and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.