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Hamstring Safety
Safety - knee, lowerback & hamstring
By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Winter 1996

Hamstring injuries can cause an athlete to miss a game or a whole season. Hamstring injuries in the off-season can ruin progress for weeks. Injuries to the Hamstring area have caused team losses in every sport and have been the cause of ending an athlete's career. I believe most, if not all, Hamstring injuries can be prevented. When I see a Hamstring injury, two thoughts immediately cross my mind: One, the athlete or coach simply did not know how to prevent this injury or two, the athlete refused to do what he was supposed to do. 

Important Tip: Many Hamstring injuries occur when doing sprinting drills or sprinting for a time. It is safer to run on a track surface than grass. Sprinting on soft grass will put bigger, faster athletes at risk. 

Injury prevention of the Hamstrings depends on two factors. First, you must make all three Hamstring muscles from origin to insertion very strong. Second, you must develop great flexibility by rigorous stretching of the Hamstring muscles and tendons.  

The Hamstrings consist of three powerful muscles in the back of the upper thigh: the Biceps Femoris, the Semitendinosus and the Semimembranosus.  The following six exercises described in this article are part of the standard BFS Program and they have proven to be highly effective in preventing Hamstring injuries.  I believe if an athlete were to do these exercises all year long with great technique, then he/she could expect to be Hamstring injury free!

LEG CURLS: This exercise is perhaps the most common one done by athletes to strengthen the Hamstrings.  However, just doing Leg Curls is not the entire answer for Hamstring injury prevention.  Far from it.  They are done twice per week with two to three sets of ten repetitions.  Jerking is prohibited.  Leg Curls should be done in a slow and controlled manner.
     STATUS: An Auxiliary Exercise
     OTHER BENEFITS: Also helps strengthen the knee joint area.

STRAIGHT LEG DEAD LIFTS: This exercise is done with very light weight with the dual purpose of stretching and strengthening the Hamstrings and the Glutes at the same time.  High school to pro athletes should use between 65-95 pounds and then progress slowly to 135 pounds.  The most that anyone should use on this lift is 40% of their Parallel Squat Max.

Do this exercise in a very slow and controlled manner.  Consider this style of Straight Leg Dead Lift to be more of a stretching exercise.  The chin should be up and the knees locked.  If you bend the knees, you will take the stretch out of the Hamstrings.  Some might ask, "Isn't that bad on the lower back?"  No, because you are using such a light weight and going slow and controlled.  In fact, the lower back will receive considerable benefit and in many cases eliminate lower back problems.

Do two to three sets of 10 repetitions two to three times per week.  Get so you can do your Straight Leg Dead Lifts from an elevated box so that you can get a complete stretch.  After a while you should be able to bring the bar down to your toes.
     STATUS: A High Priority Auxiliary Exercise
     OTHER BENEFITS: Stengthens and stretches the Glutes.  Strengthens the lower back muscles.  Increases stride length thus Speed.  Improves Vertical Jump and Standing Long Jump.

GLUTE-HAM RAISE:  This is done on a special machine called the Glute-Ham Developer.  It strengthens the entire Hamstring muscle area from origin to insertion.  Do at least two sets of ten repetitions at least twice per week.  You can do up to 25 reps on this exercise with good results.  This is more important than Leg Curls for the Hamstrings.
     STATUS: A High Priority Auxiliary Exercise
     OTHER BENEFITS: Strengthens the Glutes and Calf muscles.  Also strengthens the lower back.  Helps you  run faster  and jump higher.

LUNGES: Do not do a "bodybuilding" lunge which uses a short step but rather use a long, reaching step as pictured by Luther Elliss.  This type of lunge is better for an athlete as it will also develop what I call "Power Balance".  Do at least two sets of ten repetitions at least twice per week.  Do not lean forward but "sit tall" with the lower back locked-in tight and with the eyes focused straight ahead.  The back knee should be about one-inch from the floor for the best results.

The athlete may use a straight bar placed behind the neck or use dumbbells as shown by Luther Elliss.  Using dumbbells is probably a little safer.  I suggest that one day per week you do Standard Lunges where you do a lunge and then return to the original position.  The Standard Lunge is probably a little more effective if you do not alternate legs but rather do 10 reps with the right leg and then 10 reps with the left leg.  On the other day of the week, I suggest that you do Walking Lunges.  This will give another but desirable training effect.  Side Lunges may also be done but they will strengthen the adductors.  Lunges will also strengthen the Quadriceps but when you lunge reaching with a long stride with the back knee one-inch from the floor, you will also strengthen the Hamstring from a real-life functional position requiring great balance.
     STATUS: A High Priority Auxiliary Exercise
     OTHER BENEFITS: Develops Power Balance and Strengthens the Quadriceps

HAMSTRING STRETCH: By far the best Hamstring stretch is our BFS One-On-The-Bench exercise.  This can be done on a bench, couch or with a team in the bleachers.  Sit tall with the stretch leg in front.  The leg should be straight with the knee locked.  The toe should be perfectly straight with the toes brought back not forward.  Try to lock-in the lower back and look straight ahead.  Then pull your entire upper body forward.  Do not try to put your chin on your knee.  You get a better Hamstring stretch by bringing the chest/upper body forward.

Do this hard with intensity for a total of thirty seconds with each leg.  You may go in ten second sets or do all thirty seconds at once.
     STATUS: An Absolute Must Everyday! 
     OTHER BENEFITS: Improves Speed and Jumping Power!

PARALLEL SQUATS: Parallel Squats, when done correctly, create a coordinated maximum summation of force which develops the Hamstrings, Glutes and Quads in a real-life functional process.  The bottom line?  If you do not go down to at least parallel, this will not happen.  If you Squat high, you will actually create a more dangerous situation for Hamstring injuries.  Squatting high makes for strong Quads and weak Hamstrings.

I would have to say from my observations of thousands of athletes that more than half of our nations athletes perform their Squats too high.  This means tens of thousands are at needless risk when it comes to Hamstring injuries.  You must Squat to at least parallel.  It is far better to take some weight off the bar and Squat with great technique down to parallel than to Squat sloppy and high with a heavier weight.
     STATUS: A Top Priority Core Lift
     OTHER BENEFITS: Strengthens the Glutes, Hips and Knee Joint area when done correctly.  Strengthens the lower back and most other muscles indirectly.  That is why many call this multi-joint exercise the "King".  Improves Speed and Jumping Power.

Editor's Note: Shown demonstrating is 6-5 300 pound Luther Elliss who is a star Defensive Tackle for the Detroit Lions.

All photos will be added at a later date.

 



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