Injuries Reduction Methods 1 – Pump up the Hams!
In this series of short articles, I’ll give you a few tips on how you can minimize (reduce) the risk of injury through an effective conditioning program. The knee is a common site of injury for ski racers. When an athlete encounters high forces which their body is not prepared for, the knee can be placed in a compromised position and injury may result. There are a variety of areas of conditioning which may be lacking. Fatigue resulting from poor ‘fitness’ (low cardiovascular conditioning combined with a higher body mass index), a lack of fundamental motor skills, muscle-group asymmetries, poor trunk stabilization and poor core stability are all factors which place the athlete at greater risk. Of course, the risk is dependent on the demands being placed on an athlete. Coaches should always provide athletes with an appropriate progression (terrain, snow conditions, speed, forces encountered). By following a progression in difficulty, the athlete receives neural feedback which will allow them to respond and adapt accordingly. A thorough, progressive warm up should be conducted before every session on and off snow to prepare the athlete for the demands of their sport.
The hamstring muscle group (semitendinosus, semimembranosis and biceps femoris) plays a key role in protecting the knee from injury. The hamstrings cross both the hip and knee joint and are therefore involved in hip extension and knee flexion, as well as internal and external rotation. As the knee flexes during a ski turn, the hamstring works to decelerate forces. I often refer to this as the ‘brakes’. Here are a few hamstring deficits I often see in young athletes which I aim to correct:
1. Quad-Dominance: In this case, the quadriceps group is relatively string and the hamstrings are undeveloped. A strong hamstring allows the knee to decelerate under force which is highly important for skiers. I see quad dominance especially in young female athletes.
2. Ligament dominance: In this case, the athlete shows a tendency to stress the ligament prior to muscle activation to absorb ground forces. Again, quad-dominance and poor neuromuscular control of hamstrings are implicated in ligament dominance.
3. Poor motor control: A strong hamstring is not much use unless it can be activated in a wide variety of unpredictable situations (e.g. pretty much any sport!). This is one reason why I include a lot of jumping, agility and balance in my training programs. I use of a combination of both predictable and unpredictable drills – movement in sport is rarely predictable. Check out an unpredictable agility drill here!
4. Poor flexibility – I see this particularly in growing males. As a coach, you have to be patient during this time and encourage your athletes to engage in activities such as mobility training, yoga, stretching and rolling. Eventually their muscles will increase in the length to an acceptable level but it takes time.
What can I do to train the hamstrings in my programs?
I recommend that on a weekly basis, you include agility training, balance training, jump training and strength training. In a strength program I always include a hamstring exercise if I have a quad exercise. In the winter I may focus more on the hamstrings as the quads get plenty of action from skiing. Here are a few examples of hammy exercises I use periodically:
• Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts
• Swiss ball roll ins
• Hip Hikers
• Face Plants
• Hamstring curls (on machine)
• Any movement pattern where you go BACKWARDS. E.g. backward lunging, backwards hopping, backwards running.
Most interestingly, a recent study concluded that the Romanian deadlift and Glute-Ham raise movements resulted in the greatest hamstring activity (measured through EMG) when compared with the leg curl and good morning exercises (Graziano et al, 2013). Personally, I use a wide variety of hamstring exercises periodized in different volumes and intensities through the year. Bear in mind that only a limited number of exercises were used in the study and there are many exercises that can be effective to strengthen and improve proprioception of hamstrings.
It is important to note that, as a coach, you cannot prevent injuries from happening. Sometimes bad luck and/or poor decision making are factors. However, by implementing some basic techniques in your program, you may be able to reduce the risk of injury to your athletes. Stay posted for the next blog on injury reduction!
Graziano et al (2013). Anterior Cruciate Ligament Prevention in the Young Athlete: Evidence Based Application. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 25 (3) NSCA.
McAllister et al (2013). Muscle Activation during various hamstring exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditoning Research. (release prior to publish).
All for now!
Disclaimer: The advice given in this communication is in no way intended as an exercise/nutrition prescription. Each individual coach/athlete is responsible to decide which training/nutrition methods are appropriate for their athletes based on their assessment. FITSolutions takes no responsibility for injury or health issues arising from inappropriate use of the methodologies and/or training exercises shared in this email.