How to Prevent Hamstring Pulls

As training camp came to a close for the NFL there was one thing that stood out to me this preseason: Hamstring pulls were spreading through NFL training camps like wild fire. This article reviews some common causes of hamstring pulls and provides you with tips for preventing hamstring issues.

Hamstring pulls occur for several reasons.

    • Tightness in the rectus femoris, a member of the quadriceps. A tight rectus femoris creates an anterior pelvic tilt, significantly pulling the hamstrings. At the same time, the tight rectus femoris inhibits the gluteus maximus causing the hamstrings to compensate by taking on additional workload.
    • The athlete hasn’t trained properly during the off-season the hamstrings may not be strong enough to take on the added workload. This is often seen when improper loading parameters are assigned, failing to provide proper stimulus to the muscles.
    • Poorly designed programs fail to develop a proper strength ratio between the quads and hams (strength coach Charles Poliquin suggests a ratio of 66% or even ~80% for a sprinter). It sounds like a lot, but all of these issues are easily remedied with a proper off-season training program.

Below are some tips on how to prevent a hamstring pull.

      1. Rectus Femoris Tightness » The rectus femoris is a quadriceps muscle that crosses over two joints, the knee and hip. When tight it will create an anterior pelvic tilt. The problem is that an anterior pelvic tilt will then create an excessive pull or strain on the hamstrings as they are put in an overly stretched position. There are many ways to address shortening of this muscle. First off, athletes must make sure they are going through full range of motion during exercises such as squats. A reduced range of motion will ultimately lead to shortening of
        muscles. Adding split squats is also a great way to develop dynamic flexibility within the hips. Direct soft tissue work is the best way to free up the rectus femoris. I often have clients perform self myofascial release techniques using a tennis ball and/or foam roller to break up any scar tissue or adhesions within the muscle. For best results, I recommend that my athletes get Fascial Stretching from a Fascial Stretch Therapist or ART from a Chiropractor.
      2. Inhibition of the Glutes » Tightness in the rectus femoris also creates an inhibitory effect on the glutes. Lack of glute activation forces the hamstrings to take on an additional workload. Once we have increased range of motion in the rectus femoris (see above paragraph) it will be easier to get activation of the glutes. Performing simple glute activation exercises such as glute bridges are a great way to stimulate the glutes. With the glutes being able to perform their job now, the hamstrings will not be overly stressed and will no longer endure the additional forces glute inhibition places on the hamstrings. Besides performing basic glute bridges I like to perform a technique called PIMST (Poliquin Instant Muscle Strengthening Technique) to instantly activate the glutes or even the hamstrings if necessary. PIMST is a comprehensive integrative system of techniques utilizing muscle activation points, Chinese acupressure, and more, to instantly improve range of motion, neural drive, fascial release and faster/stronger muscular contractions. PIMST is hands down the best technique I have learned over the years to immediately activate inhibited muscles.
      3. Offset Strength Ratio between the Quadriceps and Hamstrings » Coach Charles Poliquin suggests that the proper strength ratio between the quadriceps and hamstrings should be 66%. That is to say that the hamstrings should be able to produce 66% of the force or strength as the quadriceps. However, Poliquin believes the ratio should be even greater (~80%) for athletes required to sprint. A great way to achieve this ratio is by performing 3 posterior or hamstring dominant movements for every 1 quadriceps movement. This ratio will ensure proper balance. Also, a common mistake I often see with program design is the use of improper loading parameters when training the hamstrings. The use of higher rep ranges ~10 will not provide sufficient stimulus to the hamstrings. In order to keep the hamstrings strong throughout training camp and the rest of the season it is important to use a lower rep range (4-8) to sufficiently stimulate and overload these fast twitch muscle fibers.
      4. Offset Ratio of Medial/Sagittal and Lateral Hamstrings Flexibility » Range of motion within the hamstrings themselves is often a cause for strains. There needs to be proper balance for the hamstrings in terms of range of motion in the sagittal, medial and lateral planes. There should be no more than a 10 degree difference between sagittal plane hamstring range of motion and lateral plane range of motion. The greater the difference the greater the likelihood of a pull or strain. Again, having athletes perform Self Myofascial Release techniques with the tennis ball and/or foam roller will help with any adhesions. Also, simple Fascial Stretching with a certified FST or ART practitioner will help balance out the ratio.

Summary of Steps:

      1. Stretch/Foam Roll – Rectus Femoris
      2. Activate Glutes with Glute Bridging and PIMST
      3. Use a 3:1 ratio of Hamstring to Quad strength work
      4. Use lower rep ranges (~4-8) when training the hamstrings as knee flexors
      5. Stretch/Foam Roll all angles and planes of the hamstrings – medial/lateral/sagittal

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