Q and A: Cliff Notes Guide to Hamstring Strains

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Q: Tony,

I am a D3 sprinter and my coach has us doing almost 150 crunches everyday. After seeing your post on why crunches are terrible for you, I was wondering what some good core exercises are?

Also, I pulled my hamstring what are some strengthening exercises? Yes, my flexibility is sub-par.

A: For starters, there are plenty of great articles you can read that not only showcase, but go into extensive detail on why crunches are about as useful as a one-legged man at an ass kicking contest. Namely, click here, here, here, and here.

In addition, I’ve written my fair share of blog posts on the topic (see above), but you can also go to my youtube page and find plenty of videos which demonstrate the whole concept of ANTI-rotational (rotary) training.

Moving on, as far as the hamstring is concerned, anytime I see or hear the word “strain” or “I pulled a muscle,” typically it’s indicative of a weak or inhibited synergist more than anything else. Put another way, it’s not so much you have weak hamstrings (although that certainly shouldn’t be ruled out); rather, you probably have weak glutes!

For those who are more visual learners – and still having a hard time figuring out where the glutes are located – this should help:

Simply put, the glutes are the body’s most powerful hip extensor – and, given that the posterior chain is fairly important in a sport such as sprinting – it only makes sense that we want to make sure the glutes fire optimally. Much like a co-worker who goes on a break and you’re left to pick up the slack (and getting pissed as a result), the hamstrings act much the same way.

When the glutes are weak and/or inhibited, the hamstrings (again, a synergist in hip extension) are essentially forced to work overtime. As a result, eventually, you’ll have yourself a chronic hamstring strain.

My suggestion would be to, first and foremost, focus on tissue quality. I still have no clue why people still fail to understand how important foam rolling is, but I’ll say it again – do your freakin foam rolling!

Far too often, we tell people to go “stretch,” but that’s not going to do any bit of good if their tissue quality sucks. You can stretch till you’re blue in the face, but until you break down all those knots, adhesions, and scar tissue bounding up the muscle in the first place, you’re never going to get full length.

More importantly, though, it’s about stretching what actually needs to be stretched. It’s no secret that we prefer to do things that are easy – stretching is no different. We like to stretch what “feels good” and what we’re good at. Oftentimes, due to a concept known as reciprocal inhibition, the glutes are inhibited because the hip flexors are tighter than a duck’s ass. People often make the mistake of stretching the hamstrings (feels good, easy), when in all actuality, they should be focusing on the hip flexors (ouch, not so easy).

As well, and this should go without saying, you need to include a lot of glute activation drills, either as part of your warm-up, or as fillers in between sets.

Additionally, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to include more exercises that emphasize the glutes: pull-throughs, glute ham raises, hip thrusters, etc.

Also – and I think this is something that a lot of people tend to neglect – you need to be cognizant of actually “finishing” your squats and deadlifts. Namely, getting those hips through and squeezing the glutes at the top of each rep. People oftentimes get a little lazy, and technique falls to the wayside.

Anyways, while this isn’t an exhaustive list, I think it hits on many of the big nuggets that most people need to focus on when dealing with hamstring strains. Hope it helps!


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