Why So Many Athletes Get Hamstring Tears (And How To Prevent Them)

Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears walks off the field with an injury after giving up an interception for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second quarter at Soldier Field on September 20, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.
Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears walks off the field with an injury after giving up an interception for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second quarter at Soldier Field on September 20, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  Jon Durr / Getty Images

Nothing can stop a season short for a team like a quarterback grabbing his hamstring after a play, or a slugger grimacing and grabbing after a routine ground ball to first base. Just ask Bears fans about their beloved Jay Cutler or look to the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka. It happens so often, especially in baseball, we've gotten used to it. But the most frustrating thing about those hamstring tears? They are entirely preventable.

We all lean forward way too much. As we have noted before, sitting has wreaked havoc on our hip flexors, keeping them perpetually shortened. Our trunk is leaning forward even as we stand. And this has a domino effect. When our trunk leans too far forward our glutes become passively insufficient (too long to work properly). And if that weren't bad enough, our hamstrings are also then passively insufficient. And let's not forget the lats, the huge muscles across your back, which are now too short to work the way they were supposed to work. So now our hip flexors, our glutes, our lats, and our hamstrings are unable to lengthen and shorten properly.

In the simplest terms, the hamstrings' job is to flex the knee, bringing the foot closer to the glutes.  Much like the tricep has a lengthening (eccentric) contraction that helps counterbalance the bicep as it flexes, the hamstrings counterbalance the quadriceps as they straighten the knee. So the hamstring will help decelerate knee extension as it works eccentrically.

 

The eccentric phase of activity is where most people injure their hamstrings. Your hamstring is part of your posterior chain and works together with your glute, gastrocnemius (upper calf), and lats.  So when you push off you use all above the above listed muscles and a few more. However, when you slow down your posterior chain will need to lengthen to absorb the force.  If you are bent too far forward (a sign your lats aren't working), your hamstrings now become passively insufficient or too lengthened to work properly. This means the hamstrings are already at a mechanical disadvantage to absorb force and will require more eccentric load to absorb the same force. Simply put, the hamstrings are stretched too long and then are being asked to work harder. And then your number four hitter is suddenly grabbing has hamstring at first with a tear or pull.

The answer is to strive for balance. A balanced body allows you to use most if not all of your muscles. This will allow for equal force absorption throughout.  And it will not only prevent injury but make you quicker faster and stronger reflexively. Start here: 

Hip Flexor Release
• For this release, use two lacrosse balls taped together.
• Lay on your stomach and place the double lacrosse ball just below your hip bone.
• Lean a tolerable amount of weight onto the lacrosse balls.
• Bend the knee on the side of the release back to a 90 degree angle.
• Swing your leg side to side in a tolerable range of motion.
• Repeat this in 30 second to two-minute intervals.

Distal Hamstring Release
• Sit on a surface so that the hips and knees are at 90 degrees.
• Be sure to have enough room to be able to kick the foot out and straighten the knee.
• Place a lacrosse ball behind the knee on one of the hamstring muscles just above the knee.
• Kick the foot out as to straighten the knee and return to the starting position.
• Repeat.
• Move the ball up and down to different parts of the muscle and perform the same motion.
• Perform same motion with ball on the other hamstring muscle as well.
• Repeat as often as needed until the hamstrings feel loose and released.

Hip Thrust 
• Holding two dumbbells, lie with your upper back flat on a bench or table with your legs and low back off the edge and feet on the ground.
• Place the dumbbell on your hips.
• Dip your glutes down and then thrust back up, squeezing your glutes through the movement.
• Repeat.

RDLs
• Stand with all the weight on one leg, knees slightly bent, weight through the heels, shoulder blades should be down and back with arms in the shape of a "W".
• Extend one leg straight behind while simultaneously bringing chest forward towards the ground (like a see-saw), hold and repeat.
• Do not rotate hips (should be parallel to the ground, keep back flat.