Hamstring injuries continue to present a major injury burden for all sports that involve high speed running. From the pitch to the track, hamstring strain injuries present a problem with many contributing factors driving the injury bus. So it is no surprise that there continues to be a significant amount of research aimed at improving the prevention and rehabilitation of hamstring injuries.
A recent investigation from a French University group of researchers wanted to see what exercises could be used to best mimic the stresses experienced during high speed running accelerations and sprints up to 50m Their thought was that if they could find exercises that replicate the stresses experienced during high speed sprints then it provides some insight into how we can train and develop some of the factors required for preparing athletes to withstand these forces. The ultimate aim of which is to stop the injuries from happening in the first place.
So what did they find?
Well to give further context they wanted to determine whether the horizontally orientated hamstring tasks (those would push you forward, similar to how we propel ourselves in sprinting) could replicate both the force output and muscle activation experienced in all out sprints. What they found was that there was a considerable correlation between the forces and activation levels experienced in tasks such as standing hip extension exercises and Nordic Hamstring exercises when compared with the hamstring muscle actions during high speed sprinting. What was abundantly clear is that the forces and activation, whilst correlated are still significantly lower than hat is experienced during sprinting.
So what does this mean for using hamstring strength exercises to prepare for fast running activities?
It suggests that these tasks are a part of the conversation, they are an entry to the types of loads, contraction types and activation patterns that may be utilised by the hamstring muscles during sprinting. However they will never fully prepare athletes for the types of loads experienced. It seems like an obsolete statement, but the best way to prepare an athlete to sprint fast in their sport is to gradually and progressively expose them to greater volumes and intensities of fast running. The loads that they experience are specific to that task and it requires gradual acclimatisation to fast running to build the tolerance within the hamstrings to do so. Hamstring strength exercises (and particularly horizontally orientated exercises) provide some foundation, but at the end of the day to prepare and improve your hamstrings’ tolerance for fast running there is, and always be, a need for speed training in your preparation program.