When it comes to strengthening exercises for the hamstrings, there are some great exercises out there, and there are some terrible exercises out there. Do you know which ones to perform and which to avoid? Most hamstring injuries occur during the late-swing phase of gait, as the hamstrings eccentrically contract to help slow down the leg. Any strengthening that can be done in an eccentric manner can help prevent injury.
Straight-leg deadlifts/Goodmornings (BEST)
Straight-leg Deadlifts and Goodmornings are great exercises to strengthen the hamstrings and tendons, as they allow strengthening over both of the joints that the hamstrings cross (the hip and the knee). This allows you to train the hamstrings in positions that best approximate the motions of running. Click here to learn how to perform straight-leg deadlifts with proper form.
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Nordic hamstring exercises (GOOD)
Nordic hamstring curls only strengthen across the knee joint, as the hip is held in a fixed position. Nonetheless, they have been shown to prevent injuries. Let yourself fall from a kneeling position while someone holds your feet. Catch yourself just before you reach the floor, push up and repeat. Click here to view the exercise.
Concentric hamstring curls (AVOID!)
These have actually been shown to raise susceptibility of injury to the muscle during eccentric contraction, since they reduce the number of sarcomeres in the fibers (resulting in the muscle operating best at a shorter length). If you will be running or sprinting, you want your hamstrings to work optimally at all lengths! Avoid traditional concentric hamstring curl exercises. If you can’t break your addiction to the hamstring curl machine at the gym, you can still focus on the eccentric phase by raising the weight with both legs (should feel easy), and then slowly lowering with one leg.
1) Arnason, A., Andersen, T.E., Holme, I., Engebretsen, L. & Bahr, R. (2008) Prevention of hamstring strains in elite soccer: an intervention study Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 18 (1), 40-48
2) Brocket, C.L., Morgan, D.L. & Proske, U. (2004) Predicting hamstring strain injury in elite athletes Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise, 36 (3), 379–387.
3) Mjolsnes, R., Arnason, A., Osthagen, T., Raastad, T., & Bahr, R. (2004) A 10-week randomized trial comparing eccentric vs. concentric hamstring strength training in well-trained soccer players Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 14, 311-317.