The hamstrings are essential to running fast.
In my first article on high-speed hamstrings, we established the functions and key unique characters of the hamstring group during sport movement. Now we can talk about building a game plan to attack the various needs of this group. Below what I believe to be four of the most important considerations when developing a plan for high-speed hamstrings, along with some of my favorite hamstring-developing drills and exercises.
1. Strength at Length
During ground preparation and at ground contact, the hamstrings are at long muscle lengths undergoing eccentric and isometric contractions. Training should have an emphasis on eccentric and isometric work at length, thus creating strength at length. This is where movements like the Hip Extension are great. A single-leg variation, which is a progression of the standard two-leg variation, is shown above.
The hamstring complex has a long duration of activity, and if neuromuscular coordination and proper contract-relax do not occur, this long time-under-tension can increase early neuromuscular fatigue. That creates an environment with a higher risk for potential injury. Training should include some strategies that require the athlete to rapidly contract AND relax. These are not often found in traditional training programs. Movements like Supine Straight Leg Band Flutters train the ability to rapidly contract and relax the hamstrings.
3. Move Weight Fast
The majority of hamstring injuries occur just prior to or at ground contact, when the hamstring is undergoing rapid distal eccentric and isometric contraction. The key word here is "rapid." Yet we still see many hamstring-centric movements conducted in a slow manner. Why?
4. Integrate Open-Chain Movements
Although closed chain exercises are a valuable tool, rarely do we see open-chain movements that address the role of the hamstrings before ground contact.
5. Sprint More!
Nothing comes close to sprinting in terms of the demands on the hamstrings. Plus these demands are specific to how the hamstrings function on the field/court. So programming intelligent max velocity sprint work is essential for all athletes. Prime Times are another great speed option to emphasize the hamstring group.
The best advice for healthy and high-performing hamstrings is proper progression, volume, rest periods, fatigue management and adequate stimulus. Sprinting is the best hamstring exercise, but there are things that can be done in the weight room when max velocity sprinting isn't an option. The underlying biomechanics and physiology for developing high-speed hamstrings and preparing this muscle group for the demands on sprinting are laid out. The job now is to find your own methods to produce the desired training effect. The movements laid out above are far from your only options, but hopefully they help stimulate your creative juices and give your athletes high-speed hamstrings.
Photo Credit: stefanschurr/iStock
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