As baseball season continues, we want to keep providing healthy solutions to players at all levels. So if you a major/minor league pro player or you're on a community softball league, these are tips and exercises might save you from a lot of pain in the future!
Hamstrings are the second most connected muscle behind the latissimus dorsi. The hamstring connects three major joints: the pelvic, hip and knee. Its main job is to slow down the swinging motion of a quick-moving leg. The hamstring group stabilizes with its four fanning and divergent spiraling muscle bellies.
Sure, some of you know that this muscle group creates knee flexion and hip extension, but that is secondary to its primary function of assisting in the running and walking pattern. It's really responsible for keeping the pelvis on top of a moving hip bone and swinging lower leg. We at Rehab and Revive believe the hamstring is supposed to be one of the primary muscles used for standing still and controlling the downward forces of the squat.
Any misalignment or issues caused by the problems I am listing below will lead to a hot mess in that hamstring and a really bad pull/strain, or even worse, a tear...
Causes for hamstring strains and tears:
1. Too much quad activation
Don’t be a qaudzilla. More quads strength doesn’t mean you will be faster. It might mean you can hold yourself upright on your tippy toes like a ballerina but it won’t help you move like Jagger or even MJ (Jackson or Jordan). But for argument’s sake, let’s discuss the athlete MJ. Specifically, Jordan’s hops and speed. That man wasn’t all quads but was all hamstrings and it kept him springy and in-flight to be our royal Airness!
Quad use will lead us to have hip stability because it yanks those hip bones forward. The best is ultimately a balance of two opposing forces which would be your hamstring. So don’t forget about your quads but make sure they’re balanced evenly with those hammies.
2. Hip instability
If your joint is not spinning on a pure axis it is rendered unstable. Too much excess stress will lead to a hamstring that has less than optimal length and tension to help the slowing down of a forward swinging leg. It’s like a chariot and horses running loose and you are the one holding the reins. Ultimately you won’t be able to hold on for dear life. Stabilizing the hips keeps those horses secured to the chariot.
3. Lack of ankle mobility
It is hard to achieve hip extension if you don’t have the ankle range of motion. Which means you will ultimately underdeveloped and misuse the hamstring and/or calf muscles.
4. Lack of core strength and timing
Just like any pure motion, the core needs to be involved.
The core has such a great capacity to shock absorb so that your legs and hammies don’t have to when one springs into action. Proper timing of the legs to the pelvis to the spine and core is essential to drive the legs forward repeatedly and consistently timed. Look at Usain Bolt. Once again, you see that great hamstring and core activation. He uses his hamstrings and core to keep accelerating through finish lines and break Olympic records! Hammies are the key!
So, what exercises address the above concerns? Take a look below to see my five favorite exercises for achieving well balanced hamstrings and some exercises to prevent hamstring injury.
Too many people feel as if their calves are “too tight”. But often, it isn’t the actual muscle belly but the tissues that surround the muscle as well as the tendon that cause this tight feeling. It is important that the tendon is adequately lubricated so proper knee extension happens and the foot and ankle complex can absorb the landing phase of running.
Foot mobility and the ability to splay is big time in any running sport. We often need it to splay out to create as much surface area to allow for propulsion forward.
You could do this exercise on our back or while sitting. Regardless the goal of this exercise is to set the hips inside of the socket. This improves much needed stability so the pendulum arc of swinging during the explosive part of running is efficient and smooth and less jerky.
Ever see a natural runner they often look like a gazelle and just swing from one axis of rotation? The hips don’t lie!
Reaching For The Stars
Strength and timing of the hips and core is key with this single leg bridge
Hip power and stability/strength is included in this exercises as well. Trying to reduce the quads firing will be the key here as well as ankle stability to balance on the one leg.
Learning to fire only the hamstrings in both the shortening and lengthening phase is the real key to getting faster with control. Get better at this exercise and you are bound to leap ahead of the competition and look like the best base stealer Rickey Henderson, that was all hammies back in the day!
So keep your hammies happy this baseball season with these simple exercises!
Remember, we can and we will get better together.
Dr. Justin C. Lin