Hamstrings. The bane of some, the pride of others. Let’s take a look at the anatomy first. Here is an overview of the back of your body:
You can see the glutes across the back of the hip, and then just below them are the hamstrings. There are only three, and they are obviously on the back half of the leg. By comparison, the antagonistic quads are on the front of the leg, there are four of them, and generally speaking most people walk forwards on a regular basis. 🙂
That puts hamstrings at an instant disadvantage, because they are in a numbers down situation ( 4 quads vs. 3 hammies) and most people don’t walk backwards. (If they did, I think hamstrings would be happier overall! )
Here is the hamstring closest to the inside of the leg. It’s name is the Semitendinousus. I find most of my clients have this hammy functioning well.
Here is the hamstring in the middle. Name: Semimembranosus. Again, most of my clients have no problems with getting the middle hamstring working.
Finally, here is the outside hamstring — the big chunka-monka — Biceps Femoris. Look how big that turkey is! It takes up half the back of the leg! Guess what- I find that 8.5 times out of 10 this third giant hamstring is completely asleep on at least one leg for every client I see. Another case of muscle amnesia.
However, consider now the ratio of quads to hamstrings. On a good day, quads outnumber hammys 4:3. Given my empirical evidence, quads now outnumber hammys 4:2 . That gives quads the outright ability to truly overpower those poor hamstrings, and there are many consequences to the hamstrings directly.
Namely: the hamstrings that are working pull easily or cramp easily. Really easily. Poor little things! Two against four, and on the back of the body!
Could this be you?
Let me tell you a story. I had a 16 year old competitive dancer client on a high school dance team in the middle of competition season. Aaaah!!!!! She “pulls” her hamstring in the middle of a competition. Her parents rush her to the doctor, who prescribes normal rest (not active rest!) for six weeks. We all know how I feel about normal rest. Not generally useful.
I digress. 🙂
She is chomping at the bit to get back. Her team is headed to state and she doesn’t want to miss it! Who can blame her? However, she follows the doctor’s advice to the letter, and heads back to practice after her six week moratorium has passed.
What do you think happened? Was she all better? Did rest do the trick?
“Pulled” the exact same hamstring first day back. 🙁
( Why do I keep putting the word “pulled” in quotations?)
This is when I enter the story. Her godfather, my client, called me and I went over to puzzle through this very time-sensitive dilemma. She got all of my favorite muscles to work on her, but then when she stood up to walk around her hammy felt the same. I said, “Maybe it’s tight and needs a gentle stretch?”, so I stretched the not-sore side, and then we did the sore side.
She screamed as she grabbed the back of her leg, “That’s exactly how it felt when I hurt it!”
I looked at her, taken aback, and slowly puzzled through what had just transpired. Here is the conclusion I arrived at: What if she was only using ONE or TWO hamstrings, and they felt “pulled” as they were the sole workers carrying the entire load? What if we tried a hamstring curl instead?
*Gasp. A STRENGTH move for a “pulled” muscle? Huh?
She flipped on her stomach, and we tried a traditional hamstring curl to make sure all three hammys were on board. First, of course, on the unaffected side, and then the “pulled” side. I was inwardly bracing for another scream, but none came!
It was as I suspected– the outside hamstring was AWOL, and as soon as we got it to engage, the other hamstrings could relax. Happily go about their regular hamstring days.
Was the hamstring really “pulled”?
I think not. I think it was under an incredible additional amount of workload because of the amnesia in the outside hamstring. As soon as we redistributed the workload, the “pull” sensation should be eradicated.
Here was the big test: How would she feel when she stood up?
“Fine,” she said.
I said, “Plain ‘ole fine? You’re fine? Six weeks of rest and all it took was a few hamstring curls and you’re FINE?” I think I was more excited than she was.
“Yep,” she said.
Teenagers! So blasé. 🙂
Hamstrung playing soccer
Recently my soccer teammate emailed me and said he had played our coed game, and then stayed to play another game to help out a team short of players. (Sound familiar? 🙂 He said, “I wished you were there as I pulled my hamstring badly. I could have used your expertise. I can’t walk. Do you have any ideas for me? Spectators on the sideline said that in the moment the hamstring pulled, it looked as though I’d been shot I went down so quickly!”
He was positive he would be out for weeks. I wasn’t convinced. There was no bruise, first of all, and second of all when he runs his legs never fully straighten out. Never.
What did I do to get him back playing soccer two weeks later? Check out this video I made as a FitnessFriday tip for eatnakednow.com and let me know how it works for you in the comments below.