Hamstring injuries are unfortunately one of the most common injuries that occur in sportspeople involved with high intensity sprint activity (e.g. sprinting, football, rugby, hockey, etc). It is well documented that these hamstring injuries commonly occur during the ‘terminal swing phase’ (as your foot is about to make contact with the ground) which is the phase that places the greatest load onto the hamstrings where they contract eccentrically (lengthening). A lack of eccentric hamstring strength can then cause the hamstrings to become overloaded during the terminal swing phase, resulting in a dreaded hamstring tear. Frustratingly, hamstring injuries have also been associated with high recurrence rates. However, if rehabilitated & prehabilitated effectively the rates of occurrence & recurrence reduce significantly. So, for the benefit of everyone reading I have listed my 4 favourite and most effective (from my own experience) eccentric hamstring strengthening exercises which if performed correctly and regularly WILL significantly improve your hamstring strength to prevent injury and improve sprint performance.
1. Hamstring Bridge
Begin the exercise lay on your back and with heels on a box (up to shin height). From this position raise your hips up by squeezing your glutes together and pushing your heels into the box util your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Either hold this position for 3 x 30 seconds – 1 minute or perform 3 x 10-15 repetitions. Repetitions require you to lower your hips back to the floor slowly and controlled to then repeat the movement again.
Regression: Perform the exercise with your feet on the floor
Progression: Perform the exercise with a single leg or perform with your feet on a stability ball.
2. Nordic Curl
Begin the exercise on your knees with your ankles held down by a friend or hooked onto stable piece of equipment. From this position, begin to slowly lower your torso to the ground but maintaining a straight line from your head to your knees. Continue to lower your torso to the ground until you can no longer control the movement then let your body drop to the floor, cushioning the fall with your hands and then pushing yourself back up to the start position. Complete 3 x 10 repetitions.
Regression: Perform the exercise using a stability ball while lowering your body but maintaining the same body positions
Progression: Perform the exercise with a single leg
Begin the exercise stood up with a slight bend in your knees, holding a comfortably weighted barbell or dumbbell in each hand. While maintaining your legs in this position, lower your torso forward without any flexion occurring in your back so that you are pivoting at the hip. Continue to lower your torso and the weight forward until either the weight touches the floor or until your feel a strong stretching sensation in your hamstring. At this point raise your torso up to the start position, maintaining a flat back throughout the movement and repeat the exercise 3 x 10 repetitions.
Regression: Perform using a lighter weight
Progression: Perform using a single leg
4. Hamstring Roll outs
Begin this exercise lay on your back with your heels on a stability ball. Raise your hips up by pushing your heels into the ball and squeezing your glutes together so that you’re in a bridge position. From this position, begin to straighten your knees and roll the ball away from your body. Once your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line, begin to bring the ball back towards your body by bending your knees. Ensure that you keep your hips up through the entire movement. Perform 3 x 10 repetitions.
Regression: Lower repetitions and use a smaller stability ball
Progression: Perform using a single leg
For anyone out there struggling with recurrent hamstring issues or would like to significantly reduce their risk of suffering any sort of hamstring injury then give all of these exercises a go, you’ll feel a difference within only a couple of sessions!!