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Fixing Hamstring Recruitment Issues

Hi guys,

have you ever come across a client (or have you experienced it yourself) that can’t really feel his/her hamstrings working properly in posterior chain exercises?

A good friend of mine has some serious issues with this. On the RDL’s he’s engaging the core/glutes, keeping the bar close to his body & focusing on pushing the hips back and forward. Even though his form is good, the most he gets out of his glutes and hams is a little stimulation but not that burning sensation.

His lower back tends to take over pretty quick once the load gets heavier even though form is good. I’ve even made him use a band around his knees during RDL’s to further increase the stretch on the hamstrings, but his lower back still gets aggravated after a couple of sets. I believe he is extremely lower back dominant as he tends to feel this body part also taking over in movements like the deadlift and leg press. Sidenote: he’s more quad dominant, has weaks abs and has posterior pelvic tilt only when sitting. Whenever his standing his pelvis is neutral.

His hip flexors and upper hamstrings are a bit tight but not extremely tight. He can go down to 90° on RDL’s without the lower back rounding.

On isolation movements like the lying leg curl he also can’t really stimulate his hamstrings and says the hip flexors and adductors are mostly taking over the movement. A hamstring pump is non existent for him. I’ve asked John Meadows for advice and his answer was to completely relax the feet, toes out just a tad, slow eccentric and hard contraction. This also didn’t work for him.

I’m pretty sure he’s a type 2B because he’s always trying to please everybody, thinks with his emotions, loves food and has mood swings every now and then. Feeling the muscles that he’s working on is extremely important for him. If he can’t feel it, he gets really discouraged.

I’m starting to think his issue could be neurological? Like for example due to improper neurotransmitter efficiency of acetylcholine and adrenergic desensitization? If i’m correct, these neurotransmitters are mainly responsible for hard conctractions (next to proper mineral function of course). His diet and supplementation regimen is on point.

Does anyone have advice to target his issue? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Fixing such an issue is alway complex and an individual thing and it’s hard to do without being able to be in with the person.

Some things he can try:

On leg curls

  1. Try seated leg curls instead of lying leg curls, and do them while keeping the torso slightly flexed (imagine doing a crunch) and while flexing your abs hard. This should inhibit the hip flexors.

  2. On lying leg curls try keeping the abs flexed at all times. This should help lower hip flexor, lower back and glutes contribution. BUT it is much harder, especially if someone is not good at recruiting his hamstrings, see it more as recruitment practice rather than “lifting”. If he feels it properly this way I recommend doing the number of reps he can this way (using around half of the weight he would normally use) and when he reaches failure, continue on with regular legs curls. The goal being to gradually transfer the capacity to feel the hamstrings during regular motions.

  3. Find a short-range where he is capable of feeling the hamstrings, this would be likely the top 3rd of the range of motion, but short of the completed movement. Then do slow partial reps in the zone where he can feel the hamstrings. Eventually, progress to starting a set with the partial then finishing with the full range of movement (again, to gradually improve the capacity to feel the hamstrings in the regular movement.

  4. Try the 2/1 technique on lying leg curls: do the concentric with both legs, pause 1 sec at the top while you remove one leg and then do the eccentric with only one leg; alternate leg on each rep. Obviously, start with a bit less weight than normal. If that works, you can progress to doing 4-6 reps per side this way and finishing the set using both legs and going to failure.

*If he finds that one of these methods work in improving hamstrings recruitment, have him do 2-3 sets on every workout day.

On RDLs
This is a more complex issue because even those with good recruitment in the hamstrings will feel this exercise in many muscles and thus less in the hamstrings.

One way to increase the feeling of the hamstrings is to elevate the front of the feet on a 10lbs plate (elevate the front half of the feel around 1/2 an inch).

This will stretch the hamstrings more and allow him to push the hips further back.

One last tip would be to try to learn how to flex his hamstrings while simply seating down on a chair. I can’t really describe it but just have him focus on contracting the hamstrings against nothing. Kinda like when you are flexing to show you biceps or tensing up to make your abs hard.

If he can do that he should practice it was often as possible in various positions.

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Could be, but if it is neurological I would see it more as a nerve transmission issue due to an pinched/entrapped nerve.

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Wow Coach,

I know you get this a lot but it definitely won’t hurt to read it again; thank you so much for giving such a detailed response! These things take time to write and the fact that you’re willing to put in the work despite having such a busy lifestyle already, simply amazes me.

I already know he’s going to be really happy when I tell him your suggestions. This gives him good, practical options to work with. Especially that 2/1 leg curl looks really interesting.

Concerning the 3rd leg curl variation (partials): let’s say he does 3 sets, is he supposed to do 2 worksets with partials and do full ROM on the last set? Or does he start each set with partials until he reaches concentric failure and then finishes each set with full ROM?

That probably makes more sense because neurological disorders don’t run in his family. I’ll do some research on how to tackle a pinched/entrapped nerve.

I still have so many questions on neurotransmitters but that would be overreaching :slight_smile: I’m sure I’ll find some good answers in your neurotyping courses. Starting tomorrow!

Thanks Christian