Together, the hamstrings and quadriceps (quads) of the upper leg provide power for hip and knee movement and play an important role in knee stabilization. However, despite the (mostly) solo responsibility of the hamstring to bend the knee and extend the hip - or more dynamically, the role in climbing stairs and hills, accelerating to a finish line or playing our favorite sports - our hamstrings tend to be too weak and too tight to bear such a workload. As many of us know, all too often this results in hamstring injury, which stops us far short of ideal workouts, competitions and active hobbies, not to mention being just plain annoying in daily life.
Who is at risk?
Although muscle imbalance excludes no one, runners and athletes tend to be at high risk for hamstring injury. Runners build superhero quads while logging mile after mile, but couple that source of power with weaker-link hamstrings, and your next drive up a hill, acceleration into an interval or kick to the finish line in a state of fatigue may result in your next injury. Other activities such as soccer, softball, volleyball or basketball which include jumping and/or quick acceleration tend to increase risk for muscle imbalance and thus hamstring injury as well. However, whether athlete, weekend warrior or a regular exerciser for health, all of us could use a closer check on our hamstrings. After all, we are only as strong as our weakest link.
So are your hamstrings your weak link? Well... do you sit for long periods of time? You probably have tight hamstrings. Can't easily touch your toes? If not, definitely tight hamstrings. Do your knees move before your hips hinge when you drop to a chair or squat in the gym*? Likely, this indicates weak hamstrings, and you could be contributing to quad dominance with every seat you take, chair you rise out of or squat you complete.
Don't let your hamstrings limit you!
For healthy hamstrings, the first step is to check your hamstring to quad ratio. This is done by dividing your hamstring curl (1 repetition maximum) by your leg extension (1 rep max). Fifty to eighty percent is considered normal, however 75-80% is generally considered optimal**.
To strengthen and stretch your hamstrings to optimal health, complete 3 sets of 12 repetitions of at least 2 of these exercises, 2 times per week.
Single leg Romanian dead lifts:
Nordic hamstring curls:
For coordination and more dynamic knee stability work:
Single-leg TRX squats:
Single-leg TRX lunges:
Stretches to complete on a daily basis include:
Kneeling hamstring stretch:
Technogym hamstring stretch:
Finding and correcting hamstring-quadriceps imbalance is absolutely vital for injury prevention and reaching your full fitness potential. One study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that 70 percent of athletes with recurrent hamstring injuries suffered from muscle imbalances between their quadriceps and hamstrings. After corrective strengthening and stretching of the hamstrings the imbalances every person in the study went injury-free for the entire 12-month follow-up. Don't let weak or tight hamstrings develop into injury and limit your fitness potential.
If injury and mobility limitations affect you, join us to learn stretching and strengthening techniques in our Corrective Exercise and Injury Prevention Series beginning June 10th at 6PM. This series will continue to take place on the second Wednesday of each month for the next 6 months. NASM Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, Jesi Hale will address topics such as hamstring and quadriceps imbalance, rotator cuff health, IT band syndrome and shin splint rehab and prevention. If you have further questions, please contact Jesi at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by the Wellness Center at The Fitness Loft.
*If you are unsure of how your body moves when you sit, stand or squat or would like to complete a Quad to hamstring ratio assessment to determine imbalance, talk to a Wellness Professional or Personal Trainer at The Fitness Loft Wellness Center.
**Again, please stop by the Wellness Desk for assistance with the assessment or exercise modifications!