The importance of the hamstring exercises
‘Do you know any exercises for the hamstrings?’ is one of the most frequently asked questions in the gym here at Winchester Racquets and Fitness. The hamstrings are generally ‘forgotten’ muscles (that is until they are injured), so this week we are going to look at the importance of the hamstring muscles, why they need to be trained and some example exercises to try out.
First of all, a bit of light anatomy. The hamstrings are not one muscle but actually a group of three muscles (Bicep Femoris, Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus) that are located at the back of the leg, running down from the bottom of the glutes (bum) to the back of the knee. It is quite hard to specifically isolate one of the three muscles when exercising, hence why they are commonly just referred to as the hamstrings. The hamstrings are responsible for knee flexion (bending of the knee) and play a role in hip flexion too.
So why are the hamstrings so important?
Well firstly they assist in pretty much any sporting or athletic movement that is performed. In running, the hamstrings play an important role in support and force production. In tennis, specifically if a shot is played and a need to turn and recover to the baseline, the hamstrings play a key role in our ability to slow down and change direction efficiently. In more general life, when we bend over to pick something up, the hamstrings are responsible for extending the hips and bringing us back upright.
If we train and strengthen our hamstrings not only are we going to become more efficient in our exercise and performance but we also reduce the likelihood of injury. In sport the most common musculoskeletal injury is a hamstring tear. Research tells us that a stronger hamstring is more resistant to injury, giving us the need to strengthen hamstrings.
Earlier I mentioned that hamstrings are ‘forgotten’ muscles. This tends to be because the most commonly performed lower body exercises do not directly isolate the hamstrings. Exercises such as squats, lunges, bridges and step ups all have a level of hamstring activation, but as a secondary muscle group rather than the primary working muscles. The most common hamstring exercise is the weighted hamstring curl but there are many alternatives that can be performed, as outlined below.
Glute Ham Raise
A very simple exercise that can be performed in a gym or even at home using a step. The key points here are that the force is driven through the heel down into the box and the hips are driven to the sky, remaining level. Initially holding the position for a time (for example 10 seconds) is good place to start, before progressing into a sets and reps (3x8 with 2 second holds) basis. The exercise can be performed with both legs (bilaterally) or single leg (unilaterally).
Swiss Ball Curl
Progressing from the glute ham raise is the Swiss ball curl. In the glute ham raise the hamstrings remain in one constant length (isometric contraction) whereas in the swiss ball curl the hamstring incorporates a shortening (concentric contraction) and lengthening (eccentric contraction) component. The key points of this exercise are again to drive the heel into the ball and keep hips level. Again this exercise can be performed with one or two legs.
Bridge Slide Out
The bridge slide out incorporates all three contraction types and again is a progression of the Swiss ball curl. Keep your hips high towards to the ceiling and try to think of dragging the heels back to the body.
Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
A simple looking movement that is actually highly complex to perform correctly. If trying this for the first time, ask an instructor to observe and advice on technique as you want to make sure this exercise is done right. Technique points for this exercise are slightly bent knees whilst hinging backwards at the hips and keeping a flat neutral spine.
Bit of a long post this week but thanks for reading, have a go at the exercises and please don’t hesitate to ask a member of the fitness team for help!