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This week on Balls 'n' All, I take a look at what can cause hamstring injuries in sports people and, most importantly, how to prevent them. I cover exercises you can do to strengthen your hamstrings, and exercises to avoid (for instance, the traditional leg curl). Technique is also important when it comes to looking after your hamstrings.
How to Prevent Hamstring Injuries
Jackson - Welcome back to Balls ‘N’ All here on mix 104.9. You’re listening to Jacko but we have Jacob Andreae in the studio. The expert on all things fitness, nutrition, diet, whatever it might be. Well nutrition and diet are probably pretty similar aren’t they Jacob? But thanks for joining us. Now, we’re late into the NTFL season and the thing that I have noticed is a couple of key players across the 8 clubs are going down with hamstring injuries. And it’s one of the age old injuries, it’s almost a cliche injury. ‘Ahh I’ve done my hammy,’ whatever it might be but, how do you prevent hamstring injuries?
Jacob - Hamstrings are a funny muscle, and I did a workshop with a guy called Frans Bosch a couple of years ago who’s a very, very successful and popular sprints and jumps coach from the Netherlands. And he’s done a lot of research at university level in regards to how the hamstring actually works. And it’s more of an isometric contracting muscle which means that it likes to contract and then release. So just pretend that if you were to stand in the doorway and push your hands against the door and they don’t actually move, then that’s an isometric contraction. The opposite types of contractions are concentric and eccentric where you’re, you know, for example with your bicep muscle and your upper arm you lift up a drink to your mouth, that’s a concentric contraction. And then you lower it, is an eccentric contraction. And so a lot of people train the hamstring muscle in the wrong way. So they do things like leg curl machine - use the leg curl machine in the gym. And that machine should be thrown out of any sporting performance gym. Unless you’re a bodybuilder that wants to have nice looking, big, solid hamstrings then you wouldn’t need it. You don’t actually need it and you shouldn’t use it. So the way you develop your hamstring is through isometric contractions and doing things like what’s called nordic lowers or GHDs. And no not the hair straightening device, ‘glute hamstring developers’ they’re called. And that’s where you link your feet underneath something or you get someone to push on the back of your ankles. And it might even be that you use the front end of that leg curl machine, that’s the only way that you would actually use that leg curl machine. Tuck your heels in underneath the weight plate and then lower down. So lower your body down so your knees are on the ground, keeping your hips straight and hips tucked, so tucked under as if you’re trying to tuck your tailbone under and then lower down nice and straight. And there’s different variations on that. There was actually a very, very popular video on the GWS football page of Dylan Shiel doing those nordic lowers.
Jackson - Yeah I was just about to mention that. I spent about a month training with Essendon’s VFL side. Don’t know what I was doing there but I ended up there somehow and basically, before every single training we had to do those nordic lowers. Before training and then after training, so it wasn’t something that was optional. It wasn’t like the gym program that most players got. That was sort of like ‘here you go here’s your program’ and we were left to our own devices. The nordics were supervised by all the physios there all the fitness experts and it was just absolutely essential. So, just on that leg curl stuff, is that like a surplus to requirements a bit like bicep curls or is it something that could have a detrimental effect if you smash the leg curls?
Jacob - Oh, no, it’s just the leg curl because of the way the hamstrings work. I’m not saying that bicep curls or anything like that are bad because those muscles work differently. It’s more the calf muscle, the hamstring muscle and the obliques in the trunk area kind of work a little bit different. Not to say you still can’t contract them and relax them, so do concentric and eccentric contractions. But they do work best by contracting and then releasing, contract, release. So it’s all about... So a lot of people will hear me say ‘high knees, high knees, high knees, and forget the butt kicks.’ Don’t worry about the butt kicks because as soon as you start trying to kick your butt then you're working the hamstring muscle in a way that it’s not made to work and it ends up fatiguing. So it’s all about trying to get that leg almost straight when you hit the ground and your knees up and that anterior tilt of the pelvis which means tucking your hips under like I mentioned earlier as if you’re trying to tuck your tailbone.
Jackson - There’s a lot of people in the AFL and in other sports of course as well, you will know more about that than I do but they have chronic hamstring injuries and they’re in these professional environments and you would’ve thought they’d have enough access to expertise that would prevent them from getting these hamstring injuries. I speak of a bloke named Nathan Freeman who plays AFL for St Kilda, he used to play for Collingwood. But he was a top 10 draft pick and hasn’t been able to get on a park because of those hamstring injuries. And a little bit closer to home I suppose, Cyril Rioli at Hawthorn who suffered really badly with hamstring injuries over his first half a dozen years of his career. But essentially with Cyril, I think they tried to change his running style so can you change your running style even well into adulthood to better prevent hamstring injuries?
Jacob - Yeah definitely and that’s the second part of it so just strengthening the hamstring in the way that it’s meant to be strengthened is the first part. Then he next part is to actually change your running style and it’s a difficult thing to do. It’s about how much buy-in you get from the athlete or the person. Because you know, if they don’t see any value in it then they’re not really going to do it. And it’s going to take hours and hours of practise actually going right back and going right back to 10 metres worth of high knees and trying to get the movement right and the positioning of the pelvis right. So it’s not just the strengthening of the hamstrings and strengthening properly, it’s also changing your running style, and that’s been Cyril’s problem. And what he’s then tried to fix and I don’t think he’s had any hamstring injuries for the last couple of seasons.
Jackson - No I don’t think so. But how hard is it and what kind of buy-in are we talking about here? Because running isn’t like a golf swing, it’s not something that you pick up later on, you’re literally running as soon as you can walk almost. You see toddlers and kids, they’re always running around. So I suppose it is a little bit like the habit forming stuff you’ve spoken about previously on Balls ‘N’ All. I mean it must take a significant amount of buy-in from these athletes to train something so fundamental such as running.
Jacob - Oh yeah, huge. And I say this all the time, just because you see someone that looks like they’re running it doesn't mean they're running properly. So we often see, when kids start to be able to walk around the age of 1 then they start to be able to run at about the age 18 months to 2 years. And running we see as being able to put one foot in front of the other with a bit of air time in between. And so as soon as we see that we go ‘Oh well done, you can run now!’ And then that’s it, we don’t ever look at it ever again. And then to improve running, whether for speed or for endurance, so much training is done just around metabolic conditioning so just ‘I want you to go and run out there faster and for longer and just keep doing that.’ Just flogging a dead horse, but very little is done in many circumstances on actual technique. So actually getting kids to run properly, and adults but kids especially while they’re in school is so, so important. So just because a child looks like they’re running doesn’t mean they’re running efficiently or effectively.
Jackson - Jacob you’re got a hand full of kids, I haven’t mentioned that before but you’re a family man. It must be tough growing up as a kid in the Andreae household. When they’re running at 2 years old, ‘Dad, Dad look I’m going to kick the football.’ Are you there saying, ‘Hey! Contract those hamstrings and lift those knees up, that’s wrong technique’?
Jacob - Not ‘contract those hamstrings,’ but it’s funny I do actually say that I do tell them ‘knees up’. So what we talk about at the Institute of Sport actually is knees up and toes up. So we talk about having a glass of water on your knee and a bucket of sand hanging off your toe so they’re the two very, very simple teaching cues that we talk about. So with my kids I’ll usually as they start to run I’ll call out to them and say ‘Yeah that glass of water! Where’s that bucket of sand?!’ And all of a sudden *snaps fingers* they change and my oldest one who’s 6, I just love watching him run because he’s so technically correct. It doesn’t mean he’s going to be the next Usain Bolt because you know, Usain is an absolute unique individual. But it just means it’s going to give him the best opportunity to be athletic and enjoy physical activity throughout his life.
Jackson - Very good Jacob.
How do you exercise your hamstring muscles?
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