Hamstrings: strengthen to lengthen!

In a previous post I mentioned that “short” or “weak" hamstrings could contribute to a faulty deadlift technique.  In this short article I give you a couple of reason and a technique to lengthen and train the strength of your hamstrings at the same time.

A common way to increase hamstring length is to obviously passively stretch it. Although this is a nice way to do it, the only benefit is a increased range of motion for about 15 minutes. 

There are some indications that passive stretching could decrease explosives, isotonic strength, power and increase risk of injury. The evidence is however not conclusive at this point. So if you feel good about passive stretching then please do it.

Another way of stretching is to eccentrically load the muscle through the entire range of motion.

A couple studies have shown some nice benefits:

  • Increase in eccentric strength (the muscle is lengthening while producing force)

  • No changes in isotonic strength (the muscle is keeping the same length while producing force) 

  • An increase in range of motion. More then with passive stretching. 

Hamstring rek Fysio Amsterdam Oost.jpg

Below are the instructions on how to do it. 


  1. Start with a strong elastic band around the foot 

  2. Keep the knee slightly straight 

  3. Slowly (4sec.) raise the leg until you feel tension

  4. Use 10 repetitions daily for 2-4 weeks for a positive effect


Alternatively: not shown on the image:

  1. Start with a strong elastic band around foot

  2. Pull your knee towards you as far as possible, keep the knee bend. 

  3. Slowly (sec.) extend the knee until you feel tension 

  4. Use 10 repetitions daily for 2-4 weeks for a positive effect


In conclusion a muscle is not always tight because its “short “, its often tight because its weak. Passively stretching won’t change the weakness. Eccentrically loading/stretching it will make it stronger and longer at the same time. 

If you have short hamstrings, are practicing a sport or having trouble with deadlift technique this could be something for you! 

Sources: 

Nelson RT. A Comparison of the Immediate Effects of Eccentric Training vs Static Stretch on Hamstring Flexibility in High School and College Athletes. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2006;1(2):56–61.

Abdel-Aziem AA, Soliman ES, Abdelraouf OR. Isokinetic peak torque and flexibility changes of the hamstring muscles after eccentric training: Trained versus untrained subjects. Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc. 2018;52(4):308–314. doi:10.1016/j.aott.2018.05.003




Lower back injuries, hamstrings and deadlifting 

Lower back  injuries consist of 36% of al injuries in CrossFit according to one study.

Considering that CrossFit spends a lot of there time doing deadlift related excercises its easy to imagine that the lower back sometimes gets injured in some people. Because of this a good lifting technique is emphasized in a lot of classes. But is a good technique really relevant to reduce the amount of injuries? 

A recent studie has compared a non-safe lifting technique with a safe lifting technique by bending cadaveric spines up to 20.000 times or until it breaks. A good lifting technique was keeping the bar close to the body, a bad one keeping the bar far away from the body.  With the bad lifting technique some damage in the vertebral discs was observed and in the safe technique this was observed after more reps. 

So its good to note that it might be preferable to use a safe technique from an injury point of view. Its also important to realize that some damage is unavoidable and that this is also a normal part of life as disc “problems" are also found in a-symptomatic people!

The debate on whether or not to keep the spine extended during lifting is an ongoing discussion at the moment. No studies have showed that keeping your back slightly bended during deadlifting is always bad and leads to injury or pain.

So why would you want to keep the back extended during deadlifts? 

In my opinion its good to do so because of how the hamstrings work. The hamstring contribute the most to extending the hip in the deadlift. But will not when the back is rounded. In order to understand this we should dive a little bit into the anatomy of the back, pelvis and hamstring. 

The hamstring consists of 4 muscle groups that origins on the pelvis and upper leg inserts on the lower leg. It can produce hip extension, posterior pelvic tilt, knee flexion and knee extension depending on the position of the back, hip, thigh and knee.


Hamstring+Fysio+Amsterdam+Oost.jpg


When the lower back bends the pelvis the pelvis is not fixated,  which moves into a posterior pelvic tilt (backward roll.) The hamstrings will then contribute to further bending of the back and posterior tilting of the pelvis. The torso wil get up but it will cost a lot more energy. 

When the lower back extends, the pelvis is fixated and the hamstrings will contribute to extending the hip. Making for a more efficient way of lifting the weight up in the long run.

Left: fixated pelvis. Hip extends. Right: posterior tilting of the pelvis, pelvis further tilts.

Left: fixated pelvis. Hip extends. Right: posterior tilting of the pelvis, pelvis further tilts.

So you’ve noticed that your back is arching and you want to do something about it. Great, lets look at a couple solutions. 

  1. Its "just” the technique.

    • practice the dowel drill. (Hip hinge) Perfect the drill to practice good rhythm between lower back, hamstrings and pelvis.

    • deadlift of the blocks. Usually backs start to bend at the lower part. Sometimes training of the blocks can help us to learn to keep our back straight and acquire the strength while we lower before we reach to point where we start to bend our back.

    • Cue yourself to "look up” and push the butt “out of the window"

  2. Hamstrings are to “tight" or “weak”, or both. And they cannot reach the optimal length for a extended low back and fixated pelvis.

    • do eccentric hamstring stretching/loading drills

    • do a regular stretch of the hamstrings.

  3. Core strength is not good enough.

    • program basic/advanced core training

    • program front rack Romanian Deadlifts. This puts extra demand on “the core” during the RDL

  4. The lower back is the weak link in the chain in terms of strength and gives out first.

    • tame your ego and reduce the weight ;-)

    • program Good Mornings, Back extensions, Reverse Hypers etc. to train your lower back extensors.

See what works for you! Its always recommended to consult a physio first when you are not sure or when you experience pain.

A physio can help you through your back pain, asses your technique and see what is “the weak link” to help you improve!

Sources:

Feito Y, Burrows EK, Tabb LP. A 4-Year Analysis of the Incidence of Injuries Among CrossFit-Trained Participants. Orthop J Sports Med. 2018 Oct

Amin DB. Tavakoli, J. Mechanisms of Failure Following Simulated Repetitive Lifting: A Clinically Relevant Biomechanical Cadaveric Study. 2018 Oct.

Bosch, F. Krachttraining en coördinatie, een interactieve benadering. 2012



Fixing the squat and deadlift with hip pain.

Managing Hip pain in CrossFit and weightlifting. 

People with hip problems tend to have a painful or restricted amount of hip flexion or bending of the hip. Often times going through (deep) flexion can keep a hip painful in initial stages of rehab or with conservative care.

Untitled.jpg

In order for “irritated" hips to settle the amount of flexion in daily living and sports needs to be reduced to ideally no more then 90 degrees of bending

So how do you do this and keep training at the same time?

When we look at CrossFit or weightlifting the most common moment of hip flexion is with the squat, hip hinge variations (deadlifts, kb swings etc), Split squats/lunges, box jumps and leg/knee raises. 

For this article we focus on the squats and deadlifts. 

A simple management strategy is to regress to other squat variations that put less flexion demand on the hip.  Ideally this wil give you less pain during or after training sessions. This will allow for fysio rehab to progress or for you to manage your situation through conservative care.

Here are 5 squat examples in order of most to least amount of hip flexion. The angle is viewed between the bottom half of the vertical line and the horizontal line. As you can see the angle gets slightly less with each variation. The Low bar back squat gives the most hip flexion and the box/bench squat (when the hight is priorate for the length of the trainee) has the least. 

Low Bar Back Squat - highest amount op Hip bending

Low Bar Back Squat - highest amount op Hip bending

High Bar Back Squat

High Bar Back Squat

Front Squat, a good place to start when regressing from the back squat

Front Squat, a good place to start when regressing from the back squat

Goblet Squat, slightly less hip bending then the front squat.

Goblet Squat, slightly less hip bending then the front squat.

Bench squat. The least amount of hip bending and therefore the safest.. Can be loaded with a barbel or Goblet. Preferably you want to have an external stop at 90 degrees. So here we would want a slightly higher bench.

Bench squat. The least amount of hip bending and therefore the safest.. Can be loaded with a barbel or Goblet. Preferably you want to have an external stop at 90 degrees. So here we would want a slightly higher bench.

So for instance: if you find yourself having hip pain in the high bar back squat you regress to the front squat for a month.   You should immediately or within a week feel a difference in pain during the session or in sensations of pain of stiffness in the next day. If this is not the case regress to a different version with less hip flexion.

Once you are pain free and happy with your training you progress one level at a time in difficulty and train that for 3-4 weeks. For instance: from front squat to high bar back squat. Then after 3-4 weeks progress to the low bar back squat. This is an example, how quickly adaptation takes place completely depends on the person, severity of injury and fitness levels.

For the deadlift its a bit easier. As you can see on the below images the amount of hip flexion on a conventional deadlift is more then 90 degrees. So in order to reduce the amount of bending we regress the deadlift to the hang position. (slightly lower then the next image) 

Conventional deadlift with over 100 degrees of hip flexion

Conventional deadlift with over 100 degrees of hip flexion

RDL, about 90 degrees of flexion. Normaly you go slightly lower.

RDL, about 90 degrees of flexion. Normaly you go slightly lower.

With KB swings: let the bell swing between the knees, so that the torso does not bend  more then 45 degrees forward.   This should take care of excessive knee or hip bending.

If you have some hip and groin problems give this a try, but remember that it is advised to always seek the help of a physiotherapist for a good assessment if you have not done so!