Avoid Getting Hamstrung While Maxing Out Your Hamstring Training by Tina Jo Orban
To be hamstrung is not the goal to building healthy balanced leg muscles, of course! Now that I have your attention, inattentive leg training can spell disaster for your low back. It can also decrease one's symmetry while creating a postural imbalance. I will explain. Super tight overworked, inflexible hamstrings or worse weak ones (imbalance with anterior thigh i.e., quads the antagonists) can pull the pelvis into posterior tilt. That is, if they are overworked, hypertensive (tight) and strained (think if your tail bone tucks under as tight hamstrings pull on their origin at the base of your pelvic girdle) can lead to low back pain as well as localized pain or discomfort in the hamstrings themselves. If you do have this issue—and there is a way to check, if it is indeed tight hams that are the cause of low back strain. To test, slightly bend at the knee, if this mitigates pain in your low back then hamstrings may be the cause. Stretches will be addressed in the article after my TOP THREE ranking HAMSTRING fundamental EXERCISES. The opposite is true also, loose untrained weak hams can lead to anterior pelvic tilt (usually in conjunction with tight quads because all you do is squats or leg extensions for your legs. This imbalance between quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and vastus medialis) and hamstrings (semitendinosis, semimembranosis and biceps femoris collectively), may be the culprit for much back pain that exist out there. A posteriorly tilted pelvis flattens out the low back. It also pulls on the qaudratus lumborum “QL” and the erector muscles. The ideal balance for your posterior thigh, hamstrings and your anterior thigh, quadriceps is that the quads should be 25-35% STRONGER than your hams . Please read that twice. This does not mean only perform lunges and squats to strength train and hypertrophy thighs. Indeed, the hamstrings should get isolated focused work (in my humble opinion) particularly if you suffer low back trouble and do a lot of anterior thigh focused training. Furthermore, a good stretching regimen is critical to healthy hams. I have chosen three top hamstrings exercises for you to have a thorough hamstring blast on legs day. They are: The Romanian Deadlift, The Hamstring Curl (do gyms still posses these "ham curl" machines these days? Well they should!) and adapting to the trends if you have access to TRX © try the TRX © Hamstring Bridge. I would do these as a warm up for the former. On a quirky side note, unfortunately real hamstringing has been around at least since biblical times, "Joshua did to them as the Lord directed: He hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots" But I digress. Now let us get to the antithetical hamstrung, HAMSTRING ROUTINE: In case my joke slipped by, I mean let's train your hamstrings maximally sans rendering your legs useless or powerless. Wink, wink the definition of hamstrung as the old butchers used to do to the misfortunate quadruped that was about to be dinner, or darkly the way the Carthaginians took out fleeing Roman soldiers! But there is truth in the old saying you can win a battle and lose the war. As we all know who the victors were even when Carthage employed such heinous tactics.
History aside let's really get to work on your hamstrings! Let us start with TRX © Hamstring Bridges. This is a great proprioceptive overture to begin posterior thigh compartment work. Lay flat on the floor with your hands and arms to each side as leverage. For a visual, there are plenty of internet videos "how to". With your legs bent at the knee as if doing sit-ups slip the heels of your feet into the TRX © straps securely and comfortably. Bridge up getting your glutes to contract as well as the hamstring origins at the ischial tuberosity. That is just on the back side of your buttocks at the gluteal fold. Really focus on the hams pulling you up off the floor contracting and lifting you. Now the hard part “curl” your legs toward your buttock that is bring your heels towards your glutes. Do this all while maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to hips to knees. (*Note you could do hamstring curls by using a Swiss Medicine ball in the same fashion. (Look up hamstring curls on a medicine ball).
Sets and Reps: Four Sets. I5-20 Reps. Rest one to one-and-half minutes.
Next up, now that you are fired up and warmed-up let us jump into the grand daddy of all hamstring exercises: The Romanian Deadlift, as we gym rats so affectionately refer to them as RDL’s. You really need to mind your form during RDL’s. If you have never performed these it might be a good idea to seek out a reputable trainer to learn proper form and technique that may be hard to grasp from just reading this article. That said, if you have an inkling of the exercise, I will finesse the details here:
Begin with soft knees about hip-width apart. With a pronated grip, grab a barbell preferably (as you may do this with dumbbells as well) bend down with slightly bent knees grab the bar pull up USE YOUR HAMS and glutes not your back. FOCUS! CONTRACT SLOWLY. Pull the barbell up, keeping it close to your shins and raise the bar about an inch below mid knee cap keep your back from “rounding.” This means keeps your core solid and tight and your back should not lift the load. On the decent is where the magic happens. As you SLOWLY LOWER the barbell let the hamstrings engage working against both gravity and the weight of the barbell. How much weight you ask. You should be able to complete 12 – 15 reps with perfect form. Anytime you feel low back strain, stop immediately. Reassess if it is your form or if the weight is too heavy.
Sets and Reps: Four Sets. 12-15 Reps. Rest one to one-and-half minutes.
*You could go heavy if you know what you are doing with good technique. Drop it down to 8-10 reps. Bump up your rest periods to one to two full minutes.
Lastly, we finish off with machine "leg curls." You can use Nautilus or Cybex or any machine your gym has. I won't teach you anything new per se about doing leg curls on the hamstring curl machine other than this: You can isolate the two medial hamstring muscles (inside leg muscles of the posterior compartment of the thigh that causes knee flexion and internal rotation). That is The semitendinosis and semimembranosus that are the inner part of your posterior leg can be isolated simply bringing your knees together while prone tilting your heels outwards as you curl your leg during knee flexion. The opposite is true to focus on the biceps femoris. You can slightly widen space between your thighs and turn your heels inward as you draw up the weight and curl your leg. This is analogous to focusing on gastrocnemius training in the lower portion of the leg turning your toes inwards or outward to affect the lateral and medial heads of the muscle group.
Sets and Reps: Four Sets. I5-20 Reps. Rest one to one-and-half minutes.
Finally, stretching it is a good idea (duh!). I am in the camp of once you're warmed up then stretch. So maybe into your second or third set of your first exercise go ahead and do a hamstring stretch. This could simply be standing straight up and reaching to your toes as in a classic hamstring stretch. You could also sit on the floor and straddle your legs and reach towards your toes of one leg hold it for 20 seconds release and repeat on the opposite side. Lastly, straighten out one leg place your foot in dorsiflexion lightly press into your thigh and lean forward hinging at your hips. Try stretching warmed muscles and holding minimally for 20 seconds.
 Source: Manual of structural kinesiology 19th Edition. R.T. Floyd Phd. 2012.
 TRX refers to Total Resistance Exercise, to It is a type of suspension training that uses straps and was conceived by a Randy Hetrick, a former U.S. Navy SEAL. Source Burns, Nick (2007-02-01). "Suspension Training: How Risky Is It?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-05-24.
 Sourced, JOSHUA 11:9 NIV New International Version Bible.