Why Hamstring Strength is Vital for any Athlete

The hamstring muscle is an extremely important muscle for athletes, yet it is often overlooked.

Located behind the body, the muscle is neglected when many of us are training “leg day”. Whether that is because we can’t usually see it reflected in the mirror or we don’t understand the importance of it, the hamstring is arguably the one of the most important muscles in the body.

When you speak to most athletes about their injury history it’s common to find out they have had hamstring issues.

A hamstring injury occurs frequently to one or more muscles, with three muscles making up a hamstring at the back of the thigh:

  • Semitendinosus
  • Semimembranosus
  • Biceps femoris


Why are hamstring injuries so common?

Hamstring issues are the most common injury in running as well as sports that involve repeat bouts of sprinting (soccer, AFL, hockey etc.).

In recent studies, the likelihood of hamstring strain injuries (HSI) was increased due to three factors:

  • Increased age
  • Previous injuries
  • Poor eccentric strength

It is paramount that prevention of primary and recurrent hamstring injuries is to be taken into consideration during a strength and conditioning progress.

How can I prevent hamstring injuries?

Eccentric training

Has been widely reported as an effective way to reduce the risk of hamstring injury, due to the eccentric behaviour of the hamstrings in the running cycle. For a hamstring strength program to be as effective as possible, is prudent to integrate a combination of hip and knee dominant exercises, in order to target both proximal and distal portions of the musculotendinous unit.

Examples of useful hip dominant exercises include:

  • The Romanian deadlift
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Supine elevated bridges

Examples of useful knee dominant exercise include:

  • The Nordic curl
  • Leg curl

It is also important to include a variety of integrated hip and knee exercises into a strength program, such as a glute ham raise and squat variation.

Joint mobility

It is also important to ensure correct mechanics are carried out throughout the kinetic chain. Lack of mobility in one region has the potential to disrupt correct mechanics further along the chain, predisposing surrounding musculature to injury. Regular stretching and self-myofascial release techniques can assist with maintaining healthy muscle lengths, contributing to optimal joint mobility.

Training load management

As is the case for a myriad of injuries, is prudent for reducing the risk of hamstring injuries. High training load, incorporating high-speed running, may serve as a protective factor for many injuries, but must be applied in a carefully-planned manner. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist will have the skills and knowledge to provide you with a training plan that carefully considers your overall volume, to optimise your conditioning and injury risk reduction, while avoiding over-training.


Using Nordic Curls

Of the factors listed above, two are modifiable by incorporating eccentric hamstring exercises into your regimen – enter the Nordic curl!

Nordic hamstring curls are exercises most used by AFL players, whereby lowering the upper body whilst kneeling loads the hamstring muscles proportional to the rate of descent. In other words – the lower you go, the more your hamstrings work!

During a 10-week period, Nordic curls have been shown to decrease acute hamstring injuries by up to 70%! Not bad for such a simple exercise!

Even more interesting was the fact that re-injuries alone were reduced by 85% in athletes that performed the Nordic hamstring exercise program. Armed with this knowledge, this should be one exercise in everyone’s arsenal. So, what does it look like, and how do I do it?

Starting in a kneeling position with a partner or heavy object holding your feet, begin to lower yourself SLOWLY towards the floor. Once you can no longer resist the lowering motion, fall onto your hands and sit back up into the starting position and repeat.

In some cases, athletes are unable to complete the Nordic curl perhaps due to injury, with this is mind a regression called a SHELC (supine hip extension hamstring curl) is recommended.

Starting on your back with your heels on a swiss ball, lift your hips off the ground, squeeze your gluteal and abdominal muscles tight and hold. You will then SLOWLY drag the ball in towards you till you reach a 90-degree angle between your upper and lower leg. Then repeat this in reverse to revert to the first step. Repeat.

Takeaway message

Focusing on strengthening your hamstrings is productive for injury prevention. It can be argued that it is a necessary inclusion in all strength programs for athletes in running based sports. Concentrating on eccentric strength and implementing exercises such as the Nordic curl will minimise your chances to injury or re-injury the muscle group.

Need advice on your hamstrings?

When it comes to constant hamstring injuries and issues it’s vital to talk to an Accredited Exercise Professional to help you perform these exercises properly and manage your training.

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We have partnered with Nike Australia Pty Ltd for this article series.

The views expressed in this article, unless otherwise cited, are exclusively those of the author, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). ESSA is a professional organisation committed to establishing, promoting and defending the career paths of tertiary trained exercise and sports science practitioners.

Nike had no role in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of data or research or the writing of this article.