If your a Packers Fan you know how devastating hamstring injuries can be. Last year the injury ran through the lineup like a bad cold. And even if you're not a big time packers fan, you have likely witnessed a track and field athlete as he or she pulls up during a race, grasping for their glutes in agony.
Heck, you might even have your own story of that awful tug on the back of your leg, resulting in weeks of hobbling and an inability to get much exercise done.. It's no fun for sure. Just ask any of the big time soccer players in the world cup how devastating this injury can be when it keeps them off a world stage that only grants one opportunity every four years.
The good news is that researchers and physiologists have made some recent headway in helping to prevent your next hamstring pull. Because, you see, one of the major problems is that the hamstrings can often become weak when they are not trained right. And very often, while you might have good levels of strength in your quadriceps on the front of your legs, your hamstrings are likely much weaker, which creates a lack of balance that can lead to injury.
Enter the Nordic hamstring exercise (New York Times, June 4th 2014). A simple exercise you can perform almost anywhere, and that not only helps strengthen your hamstrings, but does so with what is known as an eccentric contraction. A tension on your hamstrings while they are lengthening instead of shortening. A known powerful stimulus for strength and muscle building.
In addition, it appears that eccentric contractions also help lubricate the neuromuscular system in a way that makes your muscles (in this case your hamstrings) work in a more balanced and efficient manner, which helps to prevent injuries. In other words, eccentric contractions improve communication between your brain and your muscles.
In a 2011 study of Danish soccer players, the Nordic hamstring exercise decreased the rate of hamstring injuries by a whopping 70%. Even more profound, was the finding that players who had already experienced a hamstring injury benefited from an even greater reduction of hamstring injuries. They saw an 85% reduction in hamstring injury rates.
Here's the move, which I will demonstrate on NBC15 tonight with Leigh Mills. Beware, you are likely to be very week in this movement pattern and it won't take much to tear up your muscles (in a good way) with this movement. Eccentric contractions always create more tearing, and you have likely NEVER put this kind of movement stimulus on your hamstrings. Personally, I have a lot of work to do and plan to start with a very slow progression, which in general looks like this...
I'm starting with one session of this movement per week where I perform 3-5 repetitions. In subsequent weeks, I will add repetitions until I can do 10-15 with minimal levels of soreness. When 15 repetitions is doable, I will add a second session each week and build slowly from there. The key here is a slow progression. This movement won't feel like much when you do it the first couple times, but the tearing will sneak up on you. Also make sure to stretch and foam roll when you're done.
The movement itself I will demonstrate on NBC15 tonight with Leigh mills, but here is a brief description in the mean time. And I encourage you to click over to the New York Times article to see their graphic. The link is below.
Kneel on the floor with either a partner holding your ankles or while hooking your feet underneath a couch, chair, or anything else that will work. Then lower yourself as slowly as you can forward until you feel you need to let go and catch yourself with your hands. Push yourself back up on to your knees and repeat as per the schedule outlined above. WARNING: don't be a hero. Do what you can and build from there. If you're like me, you will NOT be able to lean very far forward before you need to release the tension and catch yourself with your hands. Create a soft landing place too. You don't want to injure yourself in some other way while performing this move 🙂
Click here for the New York Times article I cited above. There is a great graphic of the move.