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.