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Monthly Archives: August 2010

Many of you are probably aware that sprinters have a tendency to suffer hamstring injuries.  It seems that a lot of this is due to the hamstrings role in preventing you from hurting yourself while sprinting.  While sprinting, the foot leaves the ground and is supposed to travel up to the hip.  Then the knee swings forward – as this happens the lower leg uncouples from the upper leg.  At this point the foot is driven into the ground and the whole cycle repeats as long as you are sprinting.

This uncoupling of the lower leg from the upper leg is where we think a lot of these hamstring injuries come from.  The reason is simple: your hamstrings fire eccentrically to slow your lower leg down.  This is actually a pretty important thing because if your lower leg didn’t slow down it would snap forward every time you take a step and hyperextend your knee.

This article is going to discuss several types of exercises that can be used to strengthen the hamstrings to help prevent these injuries.  These exercises will be organized as follows:

  1. Warm up exercises
  2. Foundational exercises
  3. Special exercises

Warm Up Exercises:

The warm up is a great place to begin addressing this area.  We’re going to focus on three exercises that can address the hamstrings.  Note that all of these drills are typically done for 10-20 meters and should be repeated 2-3 times depending upon the workout that will follow:

  • Marching: Stand up tall and face the course.  Keeping the right leg straight, move it from the hip and swing it as high as possible (to around waist level).  As this happens, try to touch your right foot with your left hand.  Perform with the other side.  Cover the desired distance alternating sides.
  • Crab Walks:  Sit down on the ground so that your back is to the course, put your hands flat on the ground next to your hips.  Your knees should be bent and your feet should be flat on the ground.  Extend your arms so that they help support your weight, now raise your hips off the ground.  Maintain this position and move backwards down the course, using your hands and feet to move you.
  • Inchworms:  Assume the push-up position, with your head pointed down the course.  Keeping your hands in place and your legs straight, walk your feet up to your hands.  Once your feet reach your hands, keep your legs straight and walk your hands forward until you are back in the push-up position.  Repeat until the course is covered.

Foundational Exercises:

One of these exercises should be included in every workout that emphasizes the lower body.  These are exercises that should be begun during the off-season and they should be maintained during the rest of the year.  During the off-season the focus should be on lighter weights and a moderate volume (say sets of 8-15 repetitions).  As the season progresses, it is appropriate to drop to 6-10 repetitions with a little heavier weights, but it’s never really appropriate to go after maximal weights on these exercises.

The exercises that we’ll cover here are:

  • Back Raises:  Done properly, these are a great hamstring exercise.  These used to be known as hyperextensions.  Basically these are done so that you are lying face down on a bench so that your hips and upper body are hanging out in front of the bench and your feet and upper legs are supported.  From here, keeping your upper body straight, lower yourself from your hips as far towards the ground as you can.  Then, keeping your upper body straight, use your hips to raise your upper body until you are parallel to the ground.  As long as good form is observed, you can hold weight against your chest to make the exercise more difficult or do this with only one leg at a time.
  • Reverse Hyperextensions:  Almost the opposite of back raises.  Now your upper body is secured on the bench with your legs and hips hanging out in space.  Moving from your hips, lower your legs as far towards the ground as possible.  Using your hips, raise your legs until they are parallel to the floor.  When this is easy, try holding a dumbbell between your feet.
  • Good Mornings:  Stand up with a barbell resting on your shoulders.  Feet should be hip-width apart, knees unlocked.  Stick your chest out and your shoulders back – maintain this position at all times.  Keeping your upper body straight, push your hips back and lower your upper body until you are parallel to the floor.  Don’t go down any lower as the bar will roll off you.  From this position, reverse directions and use your hamstrings to lift your upper body back to the starting position.
  • Romanian Deadlifts:  Much like the good morning, but the barbell is being held in your hands.  Stand up with the bar in your hands.  Your feet should be hip-width apart.  Stick your chest out and shoulders back, maintain this position.  Keeping the bar close to your body, push your hips back and lower your upper body until you are parallel to the floor.  Use your hamstrings and reverse directions until you are back at the starting position.

Special Exercises:

These are exercises that are great for in-season training as they really focus on eccentric strength.  These should not be done for very many repetitions (usually no more than six) as they are very fatiguing and require a great deal of technique – otherwise they could cause injuries.

  • Eccentric Squats:  This is a normal back (or front) squat exercise, with one exception.  You should take around ten slow seconds to descent, pause for a count in the bottom, and then ascend.  Technique is critical to injury prevention on this exercise.  For an exercise like this, begin with around 50% of what you would have been lifting on the regular squat and focus on four to six repetitions per set.
  • Eccentric Romanian Deadlifts:  Like the eccentric squat, this is a normal Romanian deadlift except you should take ten slow seconds to descend, pause for a count in the bottom, and then ascend.  The same cautions, loading, and volume should be observed as on the eccentric squat.

Hamstring injuries are something that sprinters are prey to.  This article has been meant to give you some tools that you can use to help prevent these injuries.  Remember to warm up thoroughly prior to training and remember that good technique is essential no matter what type of exercise you use.