The Importance of Hamstring Training

I've always been a gym rat. I fell in love with the process of lifting weights from the first time I was introduced to weight training more than 15 years ago. However, I wasn't privy to the information I know now and ended up suffering an injury that would change my life for the better in 2003. I tore my ACL and MCL playing football in high school. I was a very quad dominant athlete in high school. My workouts for lower body consisted of squats, power cleans, leg press, lunges, and step ups. There was very little hamstring work involved in my training. The lack of attention to training my hamstrings is what I believe sidelined my athletic career. The injury helped me in more ways I can express in this post. It shaped and molded the habits that I still have today. I'm grateful for that experience because I'm better for it today. 

Tearing an ACL is one of the most dreaded injuries an athlete can suffer. It can sideline you for months and involves a long, hard recovery process. Female athletes need to be especially careful: they're six times more likely than males to sustain an ACL injury.

The difference between ACL injuries in females and males comes down to anatomy. That's why the frequency of women vs men is so vastly different. Several characteristics of the female body, including knee/hip alignment, knee bone structure, ligament composition and hormones, may increase their risk of ACL injuries. Since you can't change your anatomy, you must take proactive measures to reduce the risk.

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Developing hamstring strength is the key to prevent ACL injuries in both males and females. The hamstrings (the large muscle group on the back of the thighs) are often underdeveloped and relatively weak compared to the quads (the large muscle group on the front of the thighs). This, along with other risk factors, can place excessive stress on the ACL and cause it to severely be strained or tear. However, if your hamstrings are strong, they provide stability across the knee joint and help relieve your vulnerable ligaments from unwanted stress.

Because your hamstrings cross the knee and hip joints, they bend your knees and draw your hips backward. Your hamstrings contribute to functional motion, such as walking, jogging and sprinting. They also help you to achieve speed, power, and agility in many sports. When you’re running downhill, the lengthening (stretching) of your hamstrings helps you to control the speed of the descent. This ability to properly decelerate lowers the amount of pressure on the joints in your lower body and prevents injury.

Personally, I love hamstring training now. My rehab sessions for my knee were about 2-3 hours in length and a great deal of the time spent rehabbing focused on me training my hamstrings and glutes. Most people don't understand the work ethic that goes behind training muscles that can't be seen in the mirror like hamstrings, glutes and the back musculature. It takes a certain focus, mental preparation, and exercise execution to stimulate the hamstrings properly. 

There are 4 different types of hamstring exercises. 
1. Legs in a Semi-Straight Position while Standing and Extending at the Hip. (Romanian Deadlifts, and Good Mornings)
2. Straight Leg on your back or stomach and Extending at the Hip. (Back Extensions, Reverse Hyperextensions, Glute Bridges with a Straight Leg)
3. Isolated Knee Bending {Flexion}. (Lying Leg Curls, Seated Leg Curls, Standing Single Leg Curls)
4. Simultaneously Holding the Hip in Extension and Bending the Knee. (Glute Ham Raises, Stability Ball Leg Curls, TRX Leg Curls)

For best results, developmentally speaking, I recommend performing all types of the hamstring exercises listed above in all rep ranges. The hamstrings can be effectively trained 2-3 times per week to make this kind of variety possible. The key is making sure you recover with sound nutrition and rest between sessions. 

However, if your hamstrings are exceptionally weak, there's no reason you can't perform a couple of sets of hamstring exercises every day until they're up to par. 

How To Build Quality Muscle

Building muscle is no easy feat. But the majority of information out on the internet makes it seem like you can look like Hercules in 6 weeks. 

I am forever grateful for some of my mentors growing up. They instilled patience, discipline, and told me to always be a student rather than a guru when it comes to exercise and building muscle. 

The best piece of information I ever received was to seek perfection in your habits and in your movement skills. As your habits and skills improve, so will your results.

2 Keys to Increasing Lean Muscle

Mechanical tension is important and will forever be an important factor in building muscle. Putting more weight on the bar and increasing personal records on 5-10 rep maxes is essential to increase muscle size. Quality can refer to a number of things. When you are in the middle of a challenging set you tend to lose some common technical proficiency's. Your tempo increases, your body is less stable, and you use too much body English. Having a 315lb bench press is awesome but if your butt comes off the bench 6 inches then is it really doing you a lot of good? 
A set of 20 pull-ups with a half range of motion is good. A set of 10 strict pull ups with a full range of motion is great. 
A set of bicep curls that resemble a clean and press may make you feel a pump. A set of strict bicep curls with shoulder blades retracted and elbows at your sides will provide a greater stimulus. 

Stress is normally a negative when it is used in real world context. Training stress is simply the work/rest ratio of your training sessions. Metabolic stress is the burn sensation that comes when you do a grueling set that makes you cringe at the end. It is an important parameter in training but totally ignored by most lifters.

The main goal should always to get a little stronger over time. But another component is to perform a max amount of work in a short period of time. Gains are made when strength meets metabolic stress in a controlled and safe fashion. It is ignored by most lifters and not put in programs because it is uncomfortable and pushes you to your limit. But this is a challenge that you should welcome and also try to progress in. It will be to your benefit to include sets of 10-50 reps sometimes in your training program. Aside from the muscle building benefit, they help you create a form of grit and determination that will enrich all areas of your life. 

For anyone interested in getting bigger, or stronger the concept of progressive overload must be embraced. The simple act of adding weight to the bar each workout is a valid approach whenever you can pull it off. As a beginner, it works well but those days will fade and quite frankly you want them to happen sparingly for safety reasons. 

You should be open to all the possibilities to gain muscle.

Soreness Does Not Equal Results

If you are reading this then you have experienced soreness at some point and time after a hard workout. Do you remember those times when your legs were so sore that you made a stink face getting out of the car? Or when it was hard to sit in a chair? What about the time your arms hurt so bad that doing anything to your hair was just pure agony? 

This soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). If you’ve been exercising long enough, you’ve probably felt it. Some lifters relish this pain as an indicator of success, but is that really true?

What is DOMS?

DOMS happens to me after a hard leg day. It can also occur in experienced lifters when they are getting back in the groove after taking a few weeks off. Research shows that it’s not restricted to any particular muscle group, but some people tend to experience it more in certain muscles.

Technically speaking, DOMS is pretty much a muscle strain. It's nothing too serious but it happens as a result of movements you perform that your body is unaccustomed to. As you may have experienced, DOMS can range from slight muscle discomfort to severe pain that limits range of motion. Generally, muscle soreness becomes noticeable ~8 hours post-workout and peaks 48-72 hours later, although the exact time course can vary.

One thing that I do want to make clear is that muscle soreness is not directly correlated to exercise-induced muscle damage. It is possible for severe DOMS to develop with little or no indication of muscle damage, and for severe damage to occur without DOMS. You need exercise-induced muscle damage to occur for your muscle fibers to hypertrophy or grow. 

Some studies show the presence of DOMS after long-distance running, which indicates it doesn’t just occur during resistance training. This should be an indicator that DOMS isn’t a good gauge of muscle growth since running causes minimal hypertrophy in your muscles.

People who are new to working out often have the most pronounced DOMS. This is due to the new stimulus that exercise provides. Again, they get sore because they aren’t accustomed to exercising, not because they are growing like monsters. 

I don't like being sore. It hinders my performance and can negatively affect my lifestyle. When you are sore you want to move less in general. Because you know that every time you have to move will suck. There is some scientific evidence to show DOMS may negatively affect workouts by altering motor patterns in later workouts. This could cause reduced activation of the desired muscle. Hence, DOMS could actually hinder your next workout. 

Exercising while having DOMS does not seem to make muscle damage worse, but it may interfere with the recovery process. 

The “No pain, No gain” theory is wrong! At least when it comes to muscle growth. 

Soreness can provide some insight, but don’t use it as a marker for a good workout. High levels of soreness show that you have exceeded the capacity for the muscle to undergo repair. Soreness can alter the ability to train safely, and it may decrease motivation. DOMS is the main cause of reduced exercise performance. This includes decreased muscle strength and range of motion for both athletes and non-athletes. 

So be careful next time you think it is a good idea to push it to your maximum potential just because you think being sore is a great notion. 

Your P.E. teacher lied to you. 

Have You Reach Your Muscle Building Potential?

Have you ever seen someone advertise a 12 week muscle building program? I have no issue with these programs as long as trainers are honest about them. I love that it can help a person get started toward building lean muscle. But I dislike it when they make it seem like you are going to reach muscle building destination at the end of the 12 weeks.

You are never done!

If a trainer has told you that you can no longer gain muscle or that you can't make any more positive changes to your physique then they are misleading you. You can not max out your genetic potential.

Don’t get me wrong. There are upper limits to how much muscle you can build. There also limits to muscular strength and aerobic endurance. But I am sure you probably will never reach them. This phenomenon is known as the "genetic ceiling." How do you know if you’ve reached your genetic ceiling?

You don't. In fact, you can’t and never will.

How do you know when it is time to change things up?

You can gather enough data to tell if your training regimen is producing positive changes in your physique. This means that you need to keep notes on your workouts if you don't have a trainer doing it for you. Take measurements, write down your sets and reps so you can see if you are getting stronger over time. If you're not growing from your present routine then you could change a few variables and possibly see results. The number of possible ways to vary program design is virtually unlimited. Unless you try each and every alternative, there’s no way to know if another approach might be the ticket to further gains.

You have to put a lid on some of the false information you come across because most of it has an angle. They are trying to sell a supplement, a product, or some high dollar personal training fees.

Understand that the reason your muscles adapt to an exercise stimulus is a function of survival. Let me repeat that. Your muscles adapt because it is trying to maintain balance. Your body doesn’t realize the reason you hit the gym is to look jacked in a tank-top. That is a ridiculous thing to think. It senses a high degree of physical stress that it believes is a threat to survival. The response that your body takes is to coordinate a series of intracellular events to strengthen the muscles and supporting tissues so that they are better prepared the next time you lift. It could care less what you look like in a V-Neck T-shirt or bathing suit.

You stop making gains or I guess some people call it a plateau because the more you continue to provide similar stimuli, the less of a need for future adaptation. Further growth can only occur by subjecting your muscles to a different stimulus. This is why I love training. Because it forces you to find the comfort in the uncomfortable. 

A “ceiling” may exist in theory. But you never actually realize your full genetic potential. There is always the ability to further increase muscle mass. Muscular gains can be made even at the most advanced levels. It will just be at a slower pace than when you first started training.

Now the closer you get to your individual ceiling, the more essential it is to take a scientific approach to training and nutrition. From a training standpoint, this entails precise manipulation of resistance exercise variables. You may have to change how you load the muscle, and the types of loads you use in given rep ranges. I've covered this in depth in a previous blog post. 

Truth is, you’re only limited by your determination and base of knowledge.

If someone tells you that you’re done adding muscle, pay them no attention. It’s a self-limiting attitude that will keep you from achieving your full genetic potential.

Lift Light Weights For Big Muscles

I absolutely love the art of of bodybuilding. The science of gaining muscle has always fascinated me. I don't care too much about being on the beach, social media, or on stage showing off my physique. But I love the experimental process of creating a healthier body and mind. However, gaining muscle is still one of those topics that is terribly misunderstood. 

For those who want to maximize their muscle gaining potential, stay away from lectures by gym bros. They will typically give you what they think worked for them or what they saw in some magazine.

You might hear, "You have to lift to failure." "If it's not heavy then you aren't working hard enough."

But if your goal is to gain muscle and you have been searching for the truth, I'm here to give it to you. Science says it makes sense to train across the continuum of repetition ranges. While there may be validity to focusing on the so-called "hypertrophy range" (6-12 reps), both high (15-20+) and low (1-5) repetition ranges should also be incorporated into your training program.

Not only does such an approach ensure full stimulation of the spectrum of muscle fibers, but it also serves as preparatory work for optimizing performance in the hypertrophy range. Low rep work enhances neuromuscular adaptations necessary for the development of maximal strength. When max strength increases due to low rep work then you can guarantee you will be stronger at moderate loads. This will give you greater mechanical tension which is key to gaining muscle. Let’s say your low rep work increased your bench press from 150 lbs to 225 lbs. Now you can go down and train in the moderate rep range (6-12) with loads that was close to your old max. That is an example of how you can increase mechanical tension.

Now let's look at the other side of that equation. Performance of higher-rep sets help over time raise lactate threshold. This means you will have the ability to delay the onset of fatigue. This will increase time under tension during moderate rep training. Time-under-tension refers to how long the muscle is under strain during a set of an exercise. If you normally train biceps with curls at 50 lbs and the set lasts around 10 seconds. What will happen if you trained biceps with 25 lbs and the set lasts for 30-45 seconds? Over time you will get stronger and can increase the time under tension at that 50 lb set.

There are infinite ways in which varied intensities can be integrated into program design. Perhaps the best way to ensure continued progress is by periodizing training rep ranges over time. This simply means that you should have times in your training where all rep ranges are covered. How you go about covering that spectrum comes down to personal preference and making your program fit you instead of vice versa.

Another option is to base loading strategies on the type of exercise performed. I've experimented with this a lot in the past. I would focus on low to moderate-reps (~1-10) for multi-joint movements such as squats, rows, and presses. And prioritizing higher rep training (15+) for single-joint, isolation type exercises like curls, shoulder raises, and leg curls.

There are no set in stone rules here. The response to training varies by the individual and that is why you shouldn't follow what Jimmy in the gym said is the best program. You need to experiment with different approaches and find out what works best for you.

Why I Love Dumbbell Exercises

Dumbbell exercises have been a huge part of my training regimen since I started lifting weights at age 12. My dad had a set in the garage that I would use. The old school ones where you had to screw the weights on. It definitely sharpened my math skills.

Dumbbells are great tools to have in your strength training arsenal.

They allow for a lot of variety within your workouts. They have a lot of real world practicality and they have some significant advantages compared to barbells.

Of course they aren't included in most gym discussions because they aren't macho man exercises and leaves very little room to ego lift. But they have the best carryover in real life in my opinion. You will never barbell bench press something in real life unless you are stuck under an object and have to press it off of you. Pretty sure those chances are fairly slim. However, you will be faced with obstacles in life where you have to handle different weights of things and have to get in and out of various shapes. Having dumbbells in your training regimen will help improve your fitness to enhance your quality of life. 

I’m not claiming that dumbbells are the best workout tool and that they’re superior to any other piece of equipment. Barbells, kettlebells, machines, or anything else can definitely play a role in your strength development but this article will just dive into the positive aspects of using dumbbells.

Dumbbell exercises can be a little easier on the joints when you are starting out in your lifting journey. You may have some old shoulder injuries, elbow pain or back pain. Dumbbell exercises can be a little safer until you gain full mobility within all your joints, tendons and ligaments. An example of this is to take a look at flat bench dumbbell press and compare it to it's counterpart flat bench barbell press. The dumbbell version tends to be a bit more elbow and shoulder friendly because you can have more natural movement since your hands aren’t fixed in place. You have the freedom to turn or rotate them as you press. Those little tweaks can make for a very safe exercise and not hold you back from making very good strength gains.

The same thing applies to a dumbbell standing press compared to a barbell overhead press. Having your palms face your face instead of facing forward could be the difference into you forming that shape pain free. This is why I recommend people who have had previous shoulder or elbow issues to use dumbbells in their training.

This is why many of my favorite upper body and lower body exercises use dumbbells.

So if you’ve noticed some problems with certain upper body barbell exercises, try swapping them out for the dumbbell version and see how things feel.

I'm a huge advocate for training the body unilaterally as well. We all have a dominant side. Sometimes using a barbell can only exaggerate that. Using dumbbells can improve your weaker side and help you create a more stable, functional physique.

The last reason I love dumbbells is because they are great for home gyms. You don't need any fancy equipment early on in your journey. A pair of dumbbells can take you such a long way. A pair of power block dumbbells can save you a ton of space if that is a resource that is limited in your household. These dumbbells increase in 2.5 pound increments from 10 to 50 pounds. That is perfect for a home gym.

Dumbbells can be a great tool if you’re new to the wonderful world of strength training and want to ease into lifting. Begin by performing basic compound exercises with dumbbells and strive to get stronger.

No workout tool is perfect for everything but dumbbells are a great place to start in your lifting journey.

What Is The Best Strategy For Building Muscle

Men are victims to thinking they know more than they really do. Especially when it comes to lifting weights.

“When I was in high school I used to do this.”

“I read that I should always do 3 sets of 10 to gain strength.”

“I’m going to lose all my fat first and then start adding muscle.”

“I lose weight on high reps and bulk with low reps.”

“I only use machines because they make my muscles pop.”

When I get a male inquiry I immediately recognize that I have a lot of work to do. I have to break down so many walls of misconception that we don’t even start to make progress toward the goals they have for a few months. 

Admit it. You’ve probably been lured into reading a magazine article with a headline such as the one above. These types of claims are the norm rather than the exception in social media and fitness websites. The promise of a Holy Grail workout routine that will maximize your muscle development is an enticing prospect to say the least.

The problem is, no such routine exists.

I read somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 to 3 hours a day. There is no research article out there where you can extrapolate a guaranteed muscle building program. It’s essential to realize that the response to resistance exercise is highly individual. Remember that research reports the averages. So if a study reports muscular growth after a given protocol, you can bank on the fact that some subjects grew a lot more and some a lot less.

Now the fact that people respond differently doesn’t discount that there are certain principles that should be inherent in any routine designed to maximize muscle-building.

There are definitely 4 strategies that have shown there head time and time again that should be in all programs. I’ve used these strategies myself and variations of them to help me progress over the past 12 years.

  1. Use Different Loading Strategies: Using different rep ranges that vary from one rep to as many as you can count. WebFit clients will often say that I’m crazy or high because of the 50 rep sets that they have to perform.  Use heavy, moderate, and light loads. This will ensure that you stimulate the full spectrum of muscle fiber types in a fashion that produces maximal growth.
  2. Reps x Weight Wins: There is compelling evidence that shows the positive benefits of high volume training. The relationship between volume and hypertrophy are starting to show a correlation. There is a reason why bodybuilders generally have better aesthetics than powerlifters. Although a single set to failure can produce large increases in muscle growth, multiple sets are needed for maximal gains.
  3. Perform A Variety Of Exercises: Muscles have varying attachments and individual fibers are often compartmentalized so that they are innervated by different nerves. Research shows that a single exercise is not enough for maximizing whole muscle growth. To ensure complete muscle development, you need to have sufficient variety of exercise selection that takes into account basic applied kinesiology principles.
  4. Periodize Your Training: This means that you need to manipulate variables over time. In particular, volume and training frequency should be varied over the course of training to prevent plateau. Ideally, when volume is high then training frequency should be lower because recovery takes precedence. A period of deloading/active recovery is needed every 4 to 8 weeks when training frequency is higher. The body is always seeking to maintain a state of homeostasis so it will constantly adapt to the stress from its environment. Training is simply the manipulation of the application of stress and the body’s subsequent adaptation to that stress to maintain homeostasis. Having moments during training cycles where simple variables change such as volume and frequency will help you maximize muscular gains.

There are no cookie-cutter prescriptions for getting big, gaining muscle and getting stronger.

There is no “best” muscle-building program; only a best program for a given individual.