It’s beautiful sunny summertime, which means be on the lookout for beach sand in your shoes, a never fully dry swimsuit (air drying just doesn’t seem to do the trick), the quasi-toxic smell of suntan lotion spray, and the “fair weathered athletes” tearing their hamstrings.
That’s right, pulled hammy’s- or hamstring strains, are super common around this time. People who were big into sports and kept their body in tip-top shape and were very limber just a few years back are now getting back out on basketball courts, soccer fields, baseball diamonds, etc… and just annihilating their bodies.
One of the more common injuries seen from these people (as well as the weekend warriors year round) is the ol’ hamstring strain. A muscle in the back of the thigh responsible for bending your knee as well as extending your hip (like kicking backwards for example) can get easily overused and cause some serious pain.
The reasons behind this (I’ll keep this short, i promise) is all about balance. Balancing muscle groups that is. 2 muscles groups that MUST be checked when having pain in the back of the thigh are the quads and the abdominals.
Both the hamstrings and the abdominals tilt the hip (think about lying face up and rounding your back), an important movement with any function. When the abdominals get a little weaker (or rather the hamstrings start to get more messages from the brain to fire), the hamstrings DOMINATE and cause the abdominals to help out less and less.
As for the quads, they share an interesting relationship to the hamstrings. The quad muscles serve to both straighten the knee (and the biggest of the quads also flexes the hip) (good example). When standing up from a chair, do you feel like the work is more in the front of your thighs, or more from the back of your thighs? if you said the back of your thighs, you may be using your hamstrings more than your quads. This is not bad if it happens sometimes, but if it is constantly happening, your hamstrings are DOMINANT and cause the quads to help out less and less.
Ok, that part is over, now to the stuff you care about- how to prevent it.
Below I show two exercises and one stretch that decrease your risk of pulled hammys.
Here we have a goblet squat, this is a variation of a basic squat, but because of the load being in front of the body versus behind it (like a back squat). When done correctly, this uses quads a lot more efficiently in comparison to hamstring use. I like to do this one for 3-5 sets using a weight I can easily complete 12 reps with. To limit the risk of knee pain, I have a seat way behind me and I attempt to stick my butt out enough to (just barely) touch the chair before standing back up.
This is a great exercise that I learned from Gray Cook while being taught how to use the FMS, This is a great functional exercise to add into your workout, in fact I do this exercise in between sets of the goblet squat above.
Here, I lie down face up and use cable column and pull the handles (I use a double attachment bar) straight down to my stomach with my elbows straight and then (only once my arms are in position) I slowly lift my straightened knee up (the lady in the picture is using bands, this works too). By doing this, I’m activating my abdominals before firing ANY other muscles, making my abs fire first before movement. I do this for 15-20 reps or really as many as I can manage without pain in between each set up goblet squats.
Lastly, a quick stretch to do after your workout. This is a basic hamstring stretch (I have, like 25 different hamstring stretches, no joke). Lying on your back with both knees straight and toes facing the ceiling, wrap a belt, beach towel, dog collar, bed sheet, etc… around your foot and use your hands to lift it up to the sky without the other leg coming with you. When you start to feel a stretch STOP! Now try to use your leg muscles to push the leg down, but your hands shouldn’t allow anything to happen- hold this for 6 seconds. while keeping your leg in the air, relax and try to pull it further back. Did it go further? great! Keep repeating this step until it doesn’t go further without pain and then hold that point for 30 seconds.
Last pieces of advice: Don’t be a ball HOG. And if you’re limping off the court with bad pain in the back of your thigh, that’s a PORCINE (sound it out folks).
Ok, that’s it! You’re playing it safe now. It goes without saying that if anything hurts… STOP IMMEDIATELY and give me a call.
Daniel Davids PT, DPT, CSCS
ITT: bad jokes about pigs, sound advice on hammy prehab, too much science about muscle imbalances