Protect Your Hamstrings

And the Rest of Your Backside

“The front is for show, the back is for go.”

Have you ever heard that before? From time to time, I know you’ve heard a coach or trainer throw out jargon that you may not fully understand what is meant by it.

Another such phrase in the strength and conditioning world is “post-chain.” Both phrases relate to the same thing: the backside of the body. Post is short for posterior, which simply refers to the back.

Injury reduction is a huge part of training as we all know. The backside of the body contains two muscle groups that are critical to performance for speed training and are essential to keep healthy. The hamstrings and glutes are those two muscle groups.

**Quick note** The biceps femoris is the hamstring.

As athletes get bigger, stronger, and faster, the forces put on their joints, muscles, and tendons increase. Even well-trained athletes get hurt, so there are no guarantees. However, mitigating the risk of injury can be accomplished with diligent programming.

Avoiding Imbalance with a Push vs Pull Method

We're going to do as much pulling as we do pushing. I know we all love to bench and squat. I want to help you understand that there is a bad word in sports that you'd never want to have attached to you. The word is imbalanced. If you are imbalanced left to right, top to bottom, front to back, then you potentially have a bad problem.

That's the most common error and the word that we're going to be talking about through all this is posture. It's not just about your mother telling you to stand up straight. In sports, posture is everything.

Let me give you an easy example. In the weight room with the Olympic lifts or power lifts like squat, you have to have strong posture in the spine to execute those moves. If you get somebody who struggles to squat with light weight, it's likely their backside that’s lacking. Hip mobility and flexibility is a part of that as well, but if they don't have the back strength in the torso to hold yourself up, then there needs to be a plan to fix it.

Another example comes from when I was a track coach at a school where I wasn’t coaching football. I learned that the football off-season program was just squatting like crazy. Then when those guys went to track, hamstring pulls became common injuries. I tried to explain to them we got to get your hamstring muscles either flexible or strong or both and get them to catch up with the quads.

It's what our strength training program does. If we do four to six sets in the quads or some hip extension, we're going to do about that same amount in the glutes, hamstrings and adductors and any flexor muscles. That will be a good start to preventing hamstring injury. A hamstring strain can often result from one of those muscles being undertrained.

Same thing in the upper body. If there's a seven-set push in that workout with the incline and bench, we're going to do at least seven to eight sets in the back to balance that out. There are so many angles of movement with the arms that you can pick. Whether it’s different flies or rows, give the back the same number of sets as you give the front. That is the simplest way to do it.

Change the Angle--Change the Exercise

If you change the angle, you change the exercise.

What that really means is that you change the muscle performing the work or just a different part of the same muscle. The posture of a press can go from supine to upright, which is the difference between working the chest or the shoulders. Also, while the posterior deltoids are part of the deltoid muscle, it's just a third of the fibers. So play with different angles.

When you do leg curls. Try a set with your toes pointed slightly inward then do a set with your toes pointed slightly outward. That rotation will create a different feel. Be sure to get a full range of motion so that you develop hamstring strength with balance.

Posture is just a way of saying the position of your body. Rotating the feet is like rotating the hands. You may just change which head of muscle you’re targeting, but it makes a difference.

You get what you train for. So if track and field sprinters do 100-meter sprints all the time, that might not help you in a 3,200-meter run or a 5,000-meter run. It'll make you faster, but it might not give you the endurance. So the overriding principle is you get what you train for. So don’t neglect the post-chain.

Athletic development is still the name of the game, but I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “the best ability is availability.” You’ve also heard sports media talk about athletes who are labeled “injury prone.” Since everything is connected, sooner or later, something small can lead to something big. Try to teach your athletes to communicate openly and honestly about issues like lower back pain or hamstring tightness.

Cuff & Stuff

Stabilizer muscles and smaller muscles like the rotator cuff are another region that can’t get neglected. Baseball and softball are good examples of sports that need extra work doing strengthening exercises on the shoulder joint.

We call that secondary work “cuff and stuff.” The rotator cuff and extra stuff are a lot of different things, whether it's shoulder girdle, wrist, forearms, or other core exercises. You'll find if you do an isolated movement, you'll feel like something is weak. Chances are the smaller, secondary muscles have lost some strength due to being overpowered by the stronger group. It is less relied on and loses strength to the point where it is not able to do its fair share of lifting, literally, and it fails.

Sometimes what happens is an athlete adjusts their posture to get better leverage on the weight, or they don’t stabilize their posture. The lack of isolated attention results in smaller muscles getting unnecessary help from a primary mover. So be diligent with the small areas. This goes for any ancillary work. Also, it can rotate so you’re at least touching on an area about once a week.

The list may seem too long, but it’s not. We just don't do everything every day. So if you can spread it out and benefit, you're not diluting it. There are only a few things you're going to do every day which is a quality warm-up. Even your stretching routine can go between static and dynamic. You've got all kinds of options.

Athletes Must Take Ownership of the Program

Once you have coached them and taught them, encourage your athletes to take ownership of the work. They can do so much on their own.

You're there for reference, referrals, and reminders.

Somebody with hamstring problems probably needs to be shown two or three different ways to stretch and activate the hamstrings. There are plenty of different methods. I don't care what it is, groin, quad, anything; show them how to self-manage. Especially in my work where I train athletes who go off to meets or showcases (something that’s big for baseball players and soccer players), I am not going to be there at the showcase.

They need to understand how to do all this stuff. Have them demonstrate they know it and got it. That way they are owning the program. It's great to have a coach when they're doing everything for you. But your kids are going to be on their own one day and it's inevitable. So teach them to learn it and own it.

Ownership is a mental posture an athlete needs to have. When they are young, they may take it for granted having a coach or parent just tell them what to do. Knowledge and education help them take it anywhere.

Keep Learning, Keep Adapting

That's one thing we do in our program is we learn and we keep learning.

Do you want to be a coach with one year of experience thirty times or a coach with thirty years of experience? Your posture toward your program must be as a perpetual student.

In my early days as an assistant coach and then running a program myself it was very common. I’d say, what am I doing today? We are going to do x-y-z. I’d use percentages but then the percentages would change. I would want to run 100% but if your kids are tired, 75% is full speed.

So I simplified it to having two speeds: warmup and fast. That's it. We just go warm-up and then we go fast. We put, we like to say a 95% effort cap on it because we just were kind of a safety net. We don't want to pull something because you get tired and you might not be paying attention to your technique.

Whether it’s the swing phase or the proper foot strike when you're sprinting, the hamstrings and the hips and the rest of the backside has to do its job. If any of your athletes have excessive soreness, the 95% cap helps protect them.

If you've got a guy or girl flying down the track, don't worry about having your athletes keep up with them. Everybody runs at 95% of their perceived effort. First one is a freebie, remember, to see how the hams and quads are feeling.

As the athletes are learning the running techniques that are reinforced in our warm up and lead up, then they can focus on applying those techniques and getting good at executing them at high speeds.

In a couple weeks, we are going to get into a series on our warm up and lead up – with an occasional break in between to cover some relevant topics. I’m looking forward to it because I want you to have confidence in the everyday stuff.

Stay tuned.


Recent Posts