Hamstring injuries can slow you down and force you to miss training time, or they can take you out of commission for months on end. That's why learning how to care for and prevent hamstring injuries should be a major focal point for any serious athlete.
To keep you going strong this season, here are three common practices to avoid at all costs so you can keep your hamstrings safe and healthy.
DON'T Go from “Zero to Sixty”
Cold muscles, muscles that haven't been warmed up and lack sufficient blood flow, have a higher likelihood of being injured. Properly warming your muscles before you train or play is very important.
A good warm up starts with moving your body (i.e. jogging, jumping jacks, etc.) and performing some gentle stretches. Once you've properly warmed up, you can start to increase the intensity of your warm up until you've reached the level of intensity you'll be training or playing at.
It's important not go from “zero to sixty” in your intensity. Doing so puts unnecessary strain on your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This pressure and torque is what causes your muscles and ligaments to strain, sprain, and tear.
DON'T Perform Static Stretches Beforehand
There are two types of stretches: static and dynamic. Static stretches are the type of stretches you hold one position for a period of time. For example, to stretch your hamstring with a static stretch, you can place your leg on a bench or chair (heel down, toes up), lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg, and hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds.
Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, are the type of stretches you move your muscles while you stretch. For example, to stretch your hamstrings with a dynamic stretch, you can hold onto a wall for balance and then gently swing your leg forward and backward while keeping your leg straight.
While beneficial to your body after you work out, static stretches should be avoided before you work out because they actually weaken and fatigue your muscles. You do not want to weaken your muscles before you practice or play a game!
Instead, we recommend performing dynamic stretches to decrease your chance of hamstring injury (or any injury for that matter). That way, you can simultaneously increase blood flow to your muscles while allowing them to move through their proper range of motion.
DON'T Forget That Every Muscle Group Has an Opposite
Every muscle group in your body has an antagonist, an opposing muscle group that moves in the opposite direction.
For example, when you contract your hamstring muscles, your quadriceps automatically relax and lengthen. And when you contract your quadriceps your hamstrings automatically relax and lengthen.
So, how does this affect your performance? Overstretching your hamstring muscles can weaken them while making your quads too tight. This can put both muscle groups at risk for injury.
In addition, since every muscle in your body is connected by connective tissue, overstretching or over-strengthening one muscle group can create an imbalance in other muscle groups.
For example, over working your quads can not only cause your hamstrings to weaken, it can also cause your psoas muscle (a muscle that helps lift your knee to your chest) to tighten, tilting your pelvis and weakening your lower back muscles.
The bottom line is this: to keep your hamstrings healthy and injury-free, warm up properly and keep your muscles balanced by stretching and strengthening them equally.
Ok, it's time to get out there and have some fun! Keep these “don'ts” in mind while you're out training and playing, and you'll be more likely keep your body healthy, happy, and injury-free.