It's not uncommon to pull or tear your hamstring muscle during exercise. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science, hamstring injuries are among the most common sports-related injuries. The same study says that injuries typically occur during an eccentric contraction.
Eccentric muscle contractions are the opposite of concentric contractions. When you lift a weight you're doing a concentric contraction. The eccentric portion of an exercise is when you lower the weight.
To prevent hamstring injuries, you should focus on the eccentric portion during your workout. You may need to modify some exercises to shift the focus, but there are a few exercises you can use either in a gym or at home that will help strengthen your hamstrings.
1. Hamstring Bridge
This exercise is perfect for beginners who have weak hamstrings and want to strengthen them before moving on to more advanced exercises.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back, bend your hips and knees 90 degrees and rest the back of your heels on a chair. Push your heels into the chair and lift your hips about 8 inches.
Keeping both knees bent, lift your right foot off the chair about 10 inches, then lower your hips to the floor with your right foot still elevated. Put the right foot down and press your hips up into the air. This time, repeat the movement with your left leg in the air. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.
2. Resistance Band Good Mornings
This resistance band exercise is perfect for a warm-up or a high-rep hamstring workout. Avoid bands with too much resistance because they can strain your neck.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand on a resistance band with both feet, grab the band, and pull it up over your head. The band should be stretch in front of your body. Place it on the back of your neck. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your legs as straight as possible.
Keeping your back straight, slowly push your hips back until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Your knees should be slightly bent by the end. Then, take the band off the back of your neck and stand up to make the concentric portion easier. Pull the band up and over your head to do another repetition. Perform two sets of 12 repetitions.
3. Partnered Exercise
You'll need a partner to help you with this advanced hamstring exercise. It's one of the most difficult bodyweight hamstring exercises you can do, but will bolster your hamstrings to prevent injury.
HOW TO DO IT: Perform eccentric hamstring curls by kneeling on the floor with a partner holding your ankles down. Keeping your hips, thighs and upper body aligned, slowly drop forward to the point where you have to catch your fall with your hands. Push back up with your arms to the starting position and repeat. Perform two sets of five reps.
4. Sliding Hamstring Curls
For this exercise use carpet sliders or towels if you're on a smooth surface. Move slowly and with control through the eccentric portion.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie down on your back and set up as though you're going to do a hip bridge. Your heels should be six inches from your butt and feet planted flat on the floor. The sliders or towels should be under your heels.
Press your hips up into the air as high as you can. Then, slowly slide your feet away from your butt, until your legs are straight and you're lying on the floor, which is the end of the eccentric movement. Then, slide your feet back in and repeat. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions.
5. Single-Leg Deadlift
This exercise works the hamstrings one at a time. It will also challenge your ability to balance on one leg!
HOW TO DO IT: Hold either dumbbells or kettlebells in your hand, anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds. Stand on one foot. Kick your other leg back as far as you can and lean forward with your torso until your body is parallel to the ground to complete the eccentric movement.
Keep leaning forward until you can safely place your weights on the ground. Put the weights down and stand straight up. Then, with both legs on the ground, pick the weight up and start over. Perform eight repetitions on one side then eight on the other. Do three sets for each leg.
6. Eccentric Hamstring Machine Curls
This exercise gives you a creative way to emphasize an eccentric movement using a cable machine, since cable machines typically work both the concentric and eccentric movement equally.
HOW TO DO IT: To do eccentric hamstring curls on a cable machine, start by adjusting the machine so that the bottom pads are resting against your Achilles tendon. You should be able to straighten your legs out at the top of the movement.
To focus on the eccentric portion, perform the concentric part with two legs and the eccentric with one. That will shift the focus of the exercise from how much you can lift to how much you can lower. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.
- Journal of Athletic Training:Concentric Versus Enhanced Eccentric Hamstring Strength Training: Clinical Implications
- Kinetesis Spine and Joint Clinic: Hamstring Bridge – Eccentric
- Sports Injury Clinic: Strengthening Exercises for Hamstring Strains
- Gavin Burt: Effective Hamstring Eccentric Contraction Exercise