Torn your hamstring? Know tonnes of people who have? Want to know how to help prevent it? Want to see how I've managed to weave fart jokes into this article? Read on...
Torn hamstrings are the lingering fart in the elevator for many athletes. Inconvenient, avoidable and wrong on so many levels. (Thank you)
Keeping hamstrings strong and healthy is an essential part of any athlete’s career. They are frequently injured due to the massive eccentric forces they exert to control your body when completing explosive exercises like sprinting.
Conditioning hamstrings is a bit of a balancing act because you need plenty of recovery between gym-based work and the huge requirements placed on them in your track sessions (plyometrics, accelerations, max velocity work etc). Often, athletes will have gym sessions paired with plyometrics or acceleration work on the same day, or a huge track session the day following a load of gym conditioning. When you’re constantly doing exercises that put these muscles under strain you leave little room for letting them settle and adapt. So be mindful of increases in load and adjust your programme accordingly. Don’t be stupid essentially.
As an athlete who has had more hamstring tears than I care to mention, here is a little progression of primarily bodyweight exercises to activate and condition your hamstrings in what I suppose is a sprinter’s context. These are the treasure trove of relatively simple interventions that finally kept my issues at bay.
I haven’t included some of the major players like Romanian Deadlifts (RDL), Glute Ham Raise (GHR) and other big hitter exercises. I’ve kept it to this simple progression because most people, of every level, will require this sort of bodyweight control or will have been forced to undertake these sorts of exercises as part of a rehab plan at some stage. I also know athletes who can RDL 140kg but not complete a heel-raised hamstring march with a stable pelvis.
Beginners note: I have worked with some people recently that are very new to sprinting and these exercises are excellent to armour hamstrings for the new requirement.
We’re operating under the ‘prevention better than cure’ adage, so include these in your warm ups, conditioning sessions etc and see how you get on with them. They’re great hamstring ‘activators’ as well as conditioners.
The exercises cover different modes of muscle contraction, isometric (static hold), eccentric (lengthen under contraction, basically the slow lowering ones), and concentric (contract and get shorter, basically the bridging-up portion). The focus is primarily on isometric and eccentric control however.
Beginners complete these as a progression, Nordics are particularly taxing. I’ve provided example sets and rep ranges you can complete but think of getting to the Nordic stage after a few weeks of progressively building your way through the others. Include two of these exercises a week in your plan. Once you get to Nordics, stick with them and pair them with one other of the list we’ve given and that should be more than sufficient to keep you tip top.
Advanced people, pick and choose as you wish but don’t underestimate the efficacy of every one of these exercises. Lazy citation - research suggests you should have Nordics in your programme to reduce injury risk. Stick them in there twice a week for x2 sets of x4-6 quality reps.
Special mention goes to the Nordics, heel-raised marching and hamstring walkout exercises as they remain integral to my own hamstring conditioning circuits and activation sessions.
Have I mentioned the word ‘conditioning’ yet? Oh I have. Ok good. I would use another vague training term or try to be a little more creative but I’m late for training with the boys and I need a poo.
1. Heel-Raised Isometric Bridge (3 Angles) plus single leg version
2. Heel-Raised Eccentric Bridge (3 Angles) plus single leg version
3. Heel-Raised Open Angle March
4. Bilateral Bridge Slider (Eccentric)
5. Overhead Band Single Leg Bridge Slider (Eccentric)
6. Hamstring Walkout plus Walkout With Weight