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. 

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 Most Men Fail At Building Muscle

Time and time again I coach men who believe they need to go hard or go home. If they aren't dying or taking every set to failure then they aren't making progress. It is the old adage they got from high school coaches, and their parents but it is time for it to hit the hay. 

Fact: You don’t always have to train balls-to-the-wall to see results. 

When I was in college I was subscribed to Flex magazine and Muscular Development. I still have them all boxed up and I even framed some of my favorite covers and placed them in the basement. I recall countless articles urging lifters to take every set to failure. Some of my favorite bodybuilders used to say they took every set to failure. In fact, various high intensity training (HIT) articles claim that the last rep of the set was the only rep that mattered. Stopping short would only maintain size and strength. But when you take it to that last grueling rep you would cause the body to make adaptations. Which meant the body would accommodate those adaptations by gaining muscle and improve strength. 

Guess what? I've had many conversations with professional bodybuilders and that is not how they train. 

Since the 90's several peer-reviewed studies emerged showing that training to failure was not mandatory for results, nor was it better than stopping shy of failure.

This is where the general public can learn from powerlifters. Powerlifting programs take advantage of lighter loads and reduced efforts in order to allow for high training volumes and frequencies. Not every single set is taken to failure. This means that they have found ways to get more quality sets in a workout and do similar exercises more than once per week. 

There are times where a set can be taken to failure. There is a major difference in taking a set of bicep curls to failure versus a set of heavy squats. It takes most lifters many years to understand how to regulate their effort and manage their fatigue. I've seen many men never get it. They get injured and blame it on something else. It's an old high school injury that flared up. No, it was plain stupidity in thinking that you should try for a new one rep max. Once lifters reach this level of mastery, training tends reach new levels and gains are made. 

You don’t have to train balls-to-the-wall every session. You don’t even need to go all out every single week to make progress. You’ll likely experience better results by performing a considerable amount of training in the 70-85% range of your one rep max and keep some reps in the tank.

Please don’t just stubbornly grind through an exercise if it doesn’t feel right. This rarely leads to good outcomes. Strength training isn’t rocket science, but it’s not linear either. Due to the various nature of human physiology we can't completely predict the response all the time. Even when all the variables are controlled. That is why having someone educated helps. 

You must pay attention to biofeedback and experiment to figure out what works best for your body. You must adhere to a proper routine to give yourself the best chance of succeeding and making progress. Don't fail at making wise decisions during the other 23 hours when you’re not in the gym.