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Don't Ham On That Hamstring

Posted on July 10, 2014

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An Athlete’s Worst Nightmare

One of the biggest injuries for any athlete, or for that matter anyone familiar with a regular workout, are hamstring strains and injuries. They are the most commonly occurring injury in a number of sports including football, rugby and cricket among others. Hamstring injuries are a common woe of every intermittent jogger, or fair-weather fitness enthusiasts. Consider Wayne Rooney’s bout with a hamstring injury in the season before last, the massive media coverage over his recovery, and you will know all about the gravity of a hamstring injury.

First and foremost, let us do away with the assumption that a hamstring is a single muscle mass. It is a group of three muscles that run along the back of the thigh and allow you to bend your leg at the knee. When one strains their hamstring, one or more of these muscles gets stretched too far.

Hamstring strains are graded according to their severity. A grade 1 strain is mild and usually heals readily. A grade 2 strain renders the person hobbling and can take up to a week to heal. A grade 3 strain is a complete tear of the muscle which may take close to three weeks to heal. In grade three, one can safely consider the threshold of pain to be somewhere between excruciating and bloody insufferable.

How to Identify a Hamstring Strain

The first sure sign, if you are running, will be that you will come to a sudden halt. You will not be able to put any weight on that leg, hobble, or even fall. There will be a sudden, sharp pain that may well make you scream bloody murder, or grimace, depending upon your predisposition and nature of injury.

Other signs can include:

  • A distinctly unpleasant snapping or a popping feeling along with a sudden onset of pain during exercise
  • Walking, bending or straightening the leg causes pain in the back of the thigh and lower buttock
  • Tenderness in the area
  • Bruising in the area on the back of the leg, above the knee
  • Weakness in your hamstring that has persisted for some time

Causes for Hamstring Injuries

Muscle overload is the primary cause of most hamstring muscle strains. Usually occurring when the muscle is stretched beyond its capacity or challenged with an unforeseen load, these strains usually occur when the muscle lengthens as it contracts, or shortens. Despite sounding mighty paradoxical this is actually what happens when you extend a muscle while it is lifting weight. It is called eccentric contraction.  Muscle fatigue, most common to body-builders and athletes, can cause reduction in the absorption of oxygen by the muscles and result in a strain. This is often a primary reason for athletes and sportsmen suffering from injuries on the field. The NO Xplode Pre-Workout Iginter supplement delays the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles and helps fend off muscle fatigue, this is apt for heavy workouts when training your lower body.

Muscle tightness is also something most fitness experts advise you to look out for. Before any workout or playing a game a round of warm-up exercises is always necessary to keep the muscles limber. In most people the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh are stronger than the hamstring muscles at the back; when one muscle group is stronger than its opposing muscle group the imbalance can lead to strain. This is called muscle imbalance, another cause for hamstring injuries.

The Nordic Hamstring Exercise

Many researchers believe that eccentric strength training could be the answer to preventing hamstring injuries. Consider free-weights, lifting a bar-bell is a concentric action while lowering it is eccentric.

Despite the same energy being used in both actions, eccentric action requires the use of a larger group of muscles. The pain you feel after your work out is not the concentric exercise; it is the eccentric motion during the exercise.

According to at least half a dozen research studies eccentric strength training with Nordic hamstring exercise combined with adequate warm-up and stretching, was far more effective than a flexibility programme. Research by the American Journal of Sports Medicine has stated that Nordic hamstring exercises, or the Nordic hamstring curl, can prevent up to 60% of new hamstring injuries and up to 85% of recurrent hamstring injuries.

How to do a Nordic hamstring curl

  • Warm up
  • Kneel on the ground with a spotter securing your ankles
  • Lean forward as slowly and smoothly as possible so that your chest approaches the ground. Use your hamstrings to put the brakes on your momentum until you can no longer resist gravity.
  • Put out your arms to break your fall, allow your chest to touch the ground
  • Push yourself upright with an explosive push-up and repeat the exercise.

The problem with this exercise, despite its proven effectiveness, is that it is very difficult to do and almost always needs assistance. The most commonly known variation of the Nordic curl is performed with push-up assistance to return to the starting position. 

Keep your hips extended so that your body is in a straight line from knees to shoulders. Then eccentrically contract your hamstrings to resist your body from lowering until they can no longer do it. At this point you catch yourself with your upper body and perform an explosive push-up to return to the starting position.

You can also use the same technique except with an exercise band to assist you, this allows you to use your hamstrings for longer ROM and rely less on your upper body to return to the upright position. Using different strengths of the band you can increase the strain of the exercise. You can also use a partner who can give you manual assistance.

Exercise Your Hamstring Today

In 2011, 942 Danish footballers were randomly assigned either a Nordic hamstring training programme or regular training. The results were astounding. The Nordic exercise programme saw 70% fewer injuries than the regular training programme.

 Some physical therapists have expressed concerns about the Nordic exercise and its potential failings. They have noted that the exercise, if practiced without sufficient healing time between sessions could weaken the tissue leading to a tear. But researchers at the Sports Orthopaedic Research Centre in Copenhagen, who led the 2011 study, documented no related injuries.

Your hamstrings may seem like little bundles of muscle and fibre, but heed the warnings of doctors everywhere, take them for granted at your own peril. Start strengthening them today, needless to say make sure you get the right training and advice for it.