There is no question that hamstring injuries are one of the most common injuries seen in female athletes. While a hamstring strain is not nearly as severe as a torn ACL from a rehabilitation and loss of playing time standpoint, the recovery can and will still take several weeks which could lead to an athlete missing a large portion of their competitive season.
It should also be noted that the greatest number of hamstring injuries occur in the pre-season period with all the running and training the team is doing (too much, too soon), a period crucial for both player and team development. To further complicate the problem, the re-injure rate for hamstring injuries in female athletes is very high, calling into question current training and rehabilitation practices.
As a result of these issues, strength and conditioning/sport performance coaches are always on the lookout for training strategies that will reduce the risk of hamstring injuries in their female athletes. As I previously mentioned, with the amount of hamstring issues seen country-wide, we have to wonder if current training trends are accomplishing what we hope to accomplish in keeping our athletes healthy.
With that said, here are what I feel are a few of biggest issues that we as strength and conditioning/sport performance coaches need to focus on to keep the hamstrings of our female athletes healthy and allow the athlete to stay on the field all season.
Very simple; the athlete needs to have their tissue quality addressed every single time they step into the weight room. Whether your weapon of choice is a lacrosse ball, foam roller, Tiger Tail or something else, make sure they get in there and take care of their business. This isn’t just the hamstring either, the glutes, calves, quads, and adductors need to be addressed. Take care of it all, no kinks in the chain.
Proper Plyometric Training
Again, nothing earth shattering but something that seems to be overlooked and put on the back-burner when it comes to programming. Just like anything else, plyometric training should be specific and well thought out.
As an example, the plyometric program at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning is simple and effective. Four different plyometric progressions. A box jump/hurdle jump progression, single leg linear hurdle hop progression, single leg medial lateral hurdle hop progression, and finally a lateral bounding progression. Well thought out, simple and effective.
Here are two great videos of the single leg linear and single leg lateral plyo progression by Marco Sanchez.
As a said note, I am not a huge fan of the broad jump. Though I have never seen an athlete injure themselves doing a broad jump, bad landing technique (frogging the landing as I like to call it) is a terrible position to put the knee in. Furthermore, with the body propelling forward and then landing on a fixed tibia screams ACL tear to me, though I have never seen or heard of it happening. Better safe then sorry, especially when you can see great results from the previously mentioned program.
Single Leg Posterior Chain Strength
Soccer, field hockey, lacrosse and most other sports are essentially sports that are played on one leg. Running is a single leg movement, a result of bounding from one leg to other. For example, striking a soccer ball is a single leg movement, as the athlete plants one leg while the trail leg follows through and strikes the ball, resulting in a massive amount of hamstring strength in the plant leg. Furthermore, cutting, jumping, and decelerating are all single leg movements and essential to the success of a female athlete.
With this in mind, the female athlete needs to be trained in a single leg stance. Exercises like the single leg RDL, single leg hip lift, slideboard/Valslide hamstring curl, and single leg good morning need to be included and make up the majority, if not all of the female athletes glute/hamstring training protocol. There is nothing wrong with exercises like the traditional bilateral RDL, but the single leg movements need to be the nuts and bolts of your strength training.
A Progression Based Program
As with any solid program, there needs to be a progression. Far too often athletes are asked to do more then they are capable of doing in the present time. In most cases, it’s a simple case of too much, too soon.
It should be noted that most of these athletes are very capable of doing the advanced progressions that you are asking them to do, you as the coach just need to build them up so that they are ready for that progression.
A simple and effective SL RDL progression would look something like this;
- Reaching SL RDL
- 1DB SL RDL
- 2DB SL RDL
- BB SL RDL
And for the slideboard/Valslide Leg Curl Progression;
- Eccentric Slideboard leg curl
- Traditional Slideboard leg curl
- Weighted Slideboard leg curl (25-45lbs)
- Slideboard Single Leg Hip Lift leg curl
There you have it, some really simply yet effective programming strategies to help maintain hamstring health. No magic, just good solid training with well thought out progressions.