Part 1 and 2 of our hamstring series focused on assessing flexibility and passive stretches for the hamstring. Part 3 of this series will focus on some strength exercises with an eccentric emphasis that will improve hamstring mobility. The eccentric phase of a movement involves a muscle lengthening while under tension (See Resistance Training 101 and 102 in our knowledge base for a reminder on eccentric versus concentric contractions). Since the muscle is being lengthened in the eccentric phase, it can help stretch out the muscle. One of the main differences between passive stretching and eccentric contraction is the tension of the muscle as a reaction to an external load or even body weight. The benefit of focusing on the eccentric portion of the lift is that it can lengthen the fascicle length of the muscle and cause a strength adaptation since it causes microtearing of the myofibrils. While increasing the passive range of motion of any muscle is important, any increase in flexibility will also require changes in stability and strength in order to prevent injury. Eccentric exercises offer a 2 for 1 benefit of increasing range of motion and strength.
Below are a few of our favorite hamstring exercises. Be sure to watch the video for a demonstration
Good morning – this is a hip hinge pattern that focuses on keeping the hips back as the torso falls. The back should remain in a straight position, shoulders retracted (pulled back) and the core tight. This can be done as a body weight exercise or with a bar placed across the shoulders as demonstrated in the video.
Deadlift/ Romanian Deadlift (RDL) – this is another hip hinge pattern that uses an external load such as a barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell, resistance band etc. The difference between the deadlift and a RDL is that the deadlift involves picking the weight up from the ground and lowering it back to the ground, where a Romanian deadlift starts in an upright position holding the weight in the hands, lowering towards the ground by hinging at the hips, and finishing in the upright position. One advantage of an RDL is that there will be more time under tension, since the weight is held the entire time. This will also be easier to place an eccentric emphasis (lowering emphasis) throughout the lift. This will also make the RDL more challenging as fatigue will set in sooner. Both the traditional deadlift and RDL focus on the same movement, and both good exercises for the posterior chain.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift (SLRDL) – this is another hip hinging pattern that is exactly the same as the RDL, except that it is performed with one leg at a time. This will challenge balance and control throughout the movement. The back leg should stay in a straight line with the torso the whole time. Make sure to keep the back flat and avoid tilting the hips to the side as this will decrease the load on the posterior chain.
For all exercises, the main focus is a slow, controlled lowering phase. Start out with light weight and perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. When the movement becomes comfortable for you, start to gradually increase the load for more of a strength adaptation.
Alex Edwards, CEP
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Franchi, M. V., Atherton, P. J., Reeves, N. D., Flück, M., Williams, J., Mitchell, W. K., & ... Narici, M. V. (2014). Architectural, functional and molecular responses to concentric and eccentric loading in human skeletal muscle. Acta Physiologica, 210(3), 642-654.
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