Hamstring injury is known to be one of the most common injuries in sport. In particularly in athletes that require high speed such as sprinters and footballers. What makes hamstring injury different from other injuries is the high rate of reinjury.
Up to 60% of athletes will re injure their hamstring in the 12 month period following injury
It has been revealed that 13% of professional AFL players are carrying a hamstring injury at any one time. This is clearly an injury that doesn’t let up easily.
The most common cause of hamstring injury is during high speed running, just before the front foot touches the ground. At this moment the hamstring must decelerate the lower leg to gain before it makes contact with the ground. This type of muscle contraction is known as an eccentric muscle contraction which occurs when a muscle in contracting and lengthening at the same time.
It is important to note that an eccentric contraction uses different muscle fibres, coordination and neural function compared to a concentric (shortening) contractions. In short, the strength required to decelerate or lower a weight is entirely different to accelerating or picking it up.
Given that the mechanism of a hamstring injury is during an eccentric contraction and the large differences when compared to a concentric contraction, this could explain why conventional strengthening programs have failed so frequently.
Eccentric exercise has been shown time and time again to be the best form of exercise at rehabilitating and preventing hamstring injury.
Recent studies involving over 120 elite sprinters and footballers showed that by using eccentric exercise, athletes are able to return to sport in half the amount of time it took compared to a conventional strengthening program and with less than 2% having reinjured their hamstring 12 months later. An astonishing number compared to the 60% seen in recreational athletes.
The benefits don’t stop there. Hamstring stretching is often encouraged to improve flexibility, lower your injury risk and increase performance. This can become a very time consuming practice.
Fortunately eccentric exercises have been shown to improve hamstring flexibility at an equal or better rate than static stretching, and with less time.
Good examples of eccentric hamstring strengthening include a single leg Romanian Dead Lift, weighted lunges, Gliders or even Nordic Hamstring Curls for the very keen individuals.
Below is one of our Red U20’s players performing a Nordic Hamstring Curl. Don’t expect to be able to perform one of these at the same level, straight off the bat. You will have to build up to it over time.
Whether you’re rehabilitating a hamstring injury, preventing one, or looking to improve your strength and flexibility, eccentric strengthening is a no brainer.