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Weak, Frequently Injured Hamstrings


A brief history on my hammies:

2003 in high school track, I pulled my left (I think) hamstring running the two mile. I wasn't even running hard, I was just in track to stay in shape somewhat for football/wrestling.

Since I started weightlifting in about 2005, hamstrings have been what I think is my main weakness for any leg movement. I've obviously been trying to remedy that problem recently, since I got into powerlifting 8 months ago. My hamstrings often cramp up on bench press max attempts, and from what I can tell, are obviously the weak point of my deadlift and squat.

I very recently started doing some conditioning again. In fact tonight was my 2nd night of sprints. I pulled my right hamstring. I was a bit sore from the workout 2 days prior, so that is probably part of the issue.

Anywho, I have a plan for the short term rehab of this injury. What I am asking is: What's after that? How can I build up my hamstrings for strength and injury prevention, without overtraining, better than I am already? My log can be accessed for more info, but I think The early injuries occurred because my hamstrings just plain sucked, and the latest one happened due to overtraining. Any thoughts are appreciated.

Anybody Use Dumbbells Anymore?
Anybody Use Dumbbells Anymore?
Anybody Use Dumbbells Anymore?
Anybody Use Dumbbells Anymore?
Anybody Use Dumbbells Anymore?

A possibility is that your glutes aren't firing properly, and your hamstrings are doing their best to make up for it (synergistic dominance.)


watermelon_2001 makes a good point re: glutes. You will need to incorporate work that emphasizes glutes specifically while placing the hamstring complex in a secondary (ie synergistic role).

As you have noticed in one of your logs, GHR is simply too aggressive for you right now. Do not take the risk.

Although I agree with you doing leg curls (it puts emphasis on the biceps femoris short head), you may also want to include Romanian Deadlifts so the body learns to integrate hip movement with hamstring complex involvement. And it might not be a bad idea to stretch the quads between sets of hamstring work because this will help down regulate the quads (which are the antagonists in the said movements). Obviously do NOT stretch the quads between regular or sumo (if you do these at all) deads as there is some quad involvement and will screw up the lift.

So, yeah, I'd include RDLs more as accessory/therapy type of work utilizing a slow eccentric. The slow eccentric, in my experience, strengthens the connective tissue. It does, of course, cause more microtrauma so take this into account. I'd also use the slow eccentric for the leg curls as well (be sure to incorporate unilateral work into these).

And, one of your logs stated that you drank too much the night prior to a workout. I'm stating the obvious - dehydration is not a good state to be in.


What about myofascial release? If the hamstrings are overactive, should they not be rolled prior to lifting, alongside some glute activation drills, to decrease muscle tone and give the glutes the chance to be the prime movers?

Meant to ask as well OP, what's your posture like? Are you hyperlordotic? I'd suggest maybe looking over this article by Mike Robertson http://www.T-Nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/hips_dont_lie_fixing_your_force_couples


Re: myofascial release

Absolutely. SMR is a key piece. Not sure why I neglected to mention it; I'll blame it on the coffee not kicking in when I wrote the post. Good catch.


I greatly appreciate the replies.

I've been thinking about RDL's, but my concern there is that I'm already borderline on overtraining my lower back (I've never trained it, at all until the last 8 months or so). Ditto for good-mornings. After deadlift day, the only thing that gets DOMS is my lower back, until the last one where I also did sprints that night. Basically the entire lower body was a bit sore, I should not have been doing hard sprints, but that's in the past.

Far as my posture, I guess I can't fully answer that question without an expert taking a look, but it seems like I might have some anterior pelvic tilt, might even be significant but not to the point of hyperlordosis. Can post a pic if that is helpful. The article here confirms what I had concluded myself, my posterior is weak.


Also, yes, I foam roll a fair amount, but really only on my backside. Upper/lower back, and hamstrings.


There certainly will be overlap between the RDLs and good mornings. You should alterate between the two and not perform them on the same session. Also, there is the option of reducing the volume on deads to make room for either RDLs or good mornings OR even replace a dead session with a RDL session.

Perhaps a competitive power lifter can chime in on this. I would think the RDLs will allow you to get in extra volume on your grip work. Also, you mention an anterior pelvic tilt. It's not unusual to see this go up the kinetic chain this manner: anterior pelvic tilt -> excess lordosis at lumbar spine -> inability to extend at thoracic spine. Now, I'm not saying that you're suffering from this (impossible to tell via an online forum). However, if you are unable to properly extend at the thoracic spine, your scaps (shoulder blades) will most likely be in an anterior tilt as well. This means you may not be able to properly retract and depress the scaps when the bar is at the base of your neck as in the good morning. Long story short, perhaps the RDL is a better accessory lift for you at this particular stage.

I don't know if you remember Scott Abel. He used to post some fascinating articles on this site. Now, let me first say that I do NOT agree with every thing he says. However, he did come up with an amazing exercise that takes a great load of stress off the lower back while working your grip and hamstring complex.

The first two thirds of the vid shows the basic TRX hamstring workouts. Towards the end, you'll see a movement that is surprisingly effective. Obviously, you do not have to use the TRX, any strong webbing and handles will suffice.

A well known strength coach who has been recently posting articles on this site does a variation on this in which he includes a reverse row. A good movement. What's amusing is that he implies he invented this recently. Well, if you look at the date on the Scott Abel you tube vid, it shows 2009. And who knows...? It could be that Abel "borrowed" this from someone else as well.

Regardless, this is a viable option for you. I've done it. I've had my clients do it and it works quite well. If you find your grip going use straps or hang those ab slings on the handles.


I don't think my gym has anything to do those leg curl variations with, so I will start with working in RDL's, and foam rolling and stretching my quads more. My lower back is coming up to par rather quickly, in fact I think my hams/glutes are already the limiting factor in my deadlift numbers. Well, aside from my grip. Grip strength is a weakness as well, I've always trained with straps, which is not conducive to powerlifting. My last session in the gym shows that I could very easily pull 440, but couldn't hang on to it very well.

What sucks is I have my first PL meet coming up, and half of my training time for that will be rehabbing this injury, then the other half will be working in RDL's, which I assume will help my deadlift greatly in the long term, but for this meet it will slow my progress even more if I sacrifice volume on conventional deadlift. Maybe not, though. At any rate, injury prevention and a longer lifting career take priority.


sounds like your hammies and lower back are suffering overuse from your glutes not working properly.


You're right - injury prevention should take priority.

As several members, myself included, suggest, you should look into direct glute work.

One thing I forgot to mention re: GHRs. I don't know if you're lucky enough to have an actual GHR station. If you do, that's fine when you're ready for it. If you have to modify it on the floor or off a lat pull down seat, it may not be the best idea because you want to avoid compressing the patellae. Even with sufficient padding, you want to minimize any unnecessary provocation. And because your hamstring complex isn't as strong as it can be, their ability to help isometrically stabilize the knees are compromised.

As for your grip work, how's this for a plan? When doing RDLs refrain from using chalk or straps. Also incorporate fat gripz or something similar. This way, you'll be able to address two limiters in your performance - the posterior chain and grip strength.


i don't know...

but wouldn't such things as GHR and goodmornings contribute to the lower back / hammie overuse problem... insofar as the person has inactive glutes? i mean... if the injury is resulting from the person not recruiting their glutes properly on posterior chain exercises then i don't see how more posterior chain exercises will help...

until the person has learned to recruit the glutes. and strengthen them so they are in the position to do their share of the work on posterior chain exercises.



I already ditched straps altogether, finally. I used to need them for frickin everything, including BW pull-ups. Also I don't think I'm going to be RDLing my DL max any time soon, so grip won't be stressed too much for that exercise. In fact I'll probly limit the weight, and try to do RDL's with a double overhand grip.

From what I've gathered on this thread, I do want to avoid GHR and goodmornings for a bit yet, and continute with leg curls, and work in RDL's. It's also not necessarily a fact that the explanations provided are actually the case, as well. This is an internet forum, after all. But, it's the best I have to go with right now. And in either case, I know that my entire posterior chain needs to get stronger.

I'd lifted sporadically with no real program for 5 years, building a lot of general strength, and actually making some decent progress in certain areas, but the idea that this produced imbalances makes a lot of sense. Couple this with hamstring injuries having a high likelihood or recurrence, and it looks like the shoe fits.

Any other ideas for working my glutes more directly?


There's always pull ups and chin ups strapless. This will be nice way to deload the lower back, decompress the spine, and get in grip work. I strongly recommend you use a set up in which your wrists/elbows/shoulders are able to float. One option is to just find a set of handles (with webbing already attached )at your gym and loop them around the neutral grip pull up station.

The bottom line is that it's in your BEST interest to have some float for long term elbow health. Climbers (and cyclists re: knees) have known this for years.

Read up on Bret Contreras' articles. I don't agree with everything he writes but when it comes to glutes, he knows his business.

Also, incorporate Single Leg RDLs. Now hear me out before you dismiss this as a parlor trick. Once you get over the learning curve, you'll be surprised at how well it exposes and trains the weak links in your kinetic chain. Also, the lower back will take a smaller load.

So try the following:

Do some of the moves Bret describes in his glute articles. Be sure to modify to limit the stress on the lower back.

Do pull ups/chin ups using floating handles to protect the wrist/elbows/shoulders. Also don't worry so much about dropping down all the way to lock out. In fact, do NOT lock the elbows at the bottom or allow humeral head to migrate superior into the bursa and supraspinatus tendon. You're using this movement for grip work; so use a slower more controlled tempo and focus on time under tension.

Do single RDLs to address any other weak links without putting extra stress on the lower back (since you get enough of that on your regular dead training.


do you think you will use your glutes properly with the RDL's and curls or do you think you might overtax your hammies?

i'd suggest some glute activation drills. learn to get the glutes firing. then, once you can get them firing try and incorporate that into posterior chain movements at light weights. when you feel your hammies / lower back starting to take over the movement then guess your glutes are fried for the day. maybe think of it as bringing up your weak link for injury prevention.

glute activation...

something i'm learning about for myself.

glute bridges (you will find good stuff via a site search and progressions on this, too)
x band walks

edit --

i'm personally having some trouble with this. trying to learn to use my glutes for good hip drive out the hole with my low bar back squats. just got a set of micro-bands (short bands). put one around my knees yesterday for squats and WOW. not quite sure why it seems to help my body understand what it is supposed to do but it really does seem to. fatiguing, though.


So was there an actual tear in the hamstring? I ask because I am a student and have been helping out a PHD student who is doing his work on hamstring tears (his work involves neuromuscular and muscle architecture changes and how that influences prevention, so the stuff I have learned from him, on the potential results of his study would be of high value to you). I have had quite a few discussions on the topic and was even examined on some of the concepts last semester! Im definitely not an expert but I do know a reasonable amount, let me know if there was an actual tear or not, because if not, I really don't want to bother writing out everything I would write if you did.


Ahh fuck it I'll just post it now anyway since I am probably going to be busy with uni. It will be good revision anyway if I do this all by memory.

First thing you need to know is that muscle tears almost always occur on the eccentric component. This is why hamstring tears are so common in running, as they face a large eccentric force at full extension of the knee. So, creating better eccentric strength appears to have a huge benefit in regards to injury prevention. Eccentrically biased training for the hamstrings can be easily applied by using a nordic hamstring curl (google it, but basically a GHR where you lower yourself down, then push yourself back up so there is no concentric component). A study of Norwegian footballers showed that not only does flexibility training have no benefits in regards to injury prevention (contrary to popular belief), but the Nordic hamstring curl reduced risk of hamstring tears.

You see, all muscles have a force-length relationship, and some research has shown that eccentrically biased training can alter this relationship by shifting it to the right (this only make sense if you graph the relationship) but basically it can make the muscle stronger at longer lengths, which is where the tear will occur. Studies have shown that eccentrically biased training produces in-series hypertrophy (as opposed to in parallel) which produces this change in the force-length relationship.

A rehab specialist (who is not smart) will tend to strengthen the injured limb to the point where it's peak strength is actually higher that the healthy one, but without trying to undo the negative changes in the force-length curve resulting from the injury, the previous injured muscle will still be at a far greater risk at longer lengths.

My buddy doing the PHD thinks that there are actually neural inhibitions (and it makes sense, but he hasn't finished collecting data see I cannot confirm or deny) that cause this. But either way, it appears the neural inhibitions and muscle architecture changes are inter-related.

So an evidence based approach to rehab would be to use eccentrically biased training (dw worry about excessive soreness, you will adapt) and it helps to be fit (good cardio, as fatigue is implicated). JUST BE CAREFUL!!! I don't know your injury nor am I qualified to diagnose it, so you need to make sure you are ready to begin this approach (you have recovered enough etc) and you don't over do it. Best thing, is to find an exercise physiologist or similar professional who knows about these methods. Of course they are not likely to be up to date with the latest (since the study I am hoping out with is still going on) but they should really be aware of eccentric only or eccentrically biased training and its implications for muscle tears and rehab/injury prevention purposes.

Good luck, and I would not take it upon yourself to do this, find someone who knows what they are doing.


56x11: What exactly are floating handles? I have an idea what you are talking about, but not 100% sure. Pull-ups don't do much for my grip anymore, I did 100 reps a few weeks back, all strapless, didn't have any fatigue or soreness in the forearms/hands. That's not necessarily indicative of anything, but still. And, I'm not worried about my grip training, it is coming along. It's hard not to, my grip really, really sucked not too long ago. I couldn't do 10 pull-ups, not because of a weak back or biceps, but because my grip was so bad. Coincidentally, I'm a horrible arm wrestler.

Also, I do plan on throwing in some single leg movements

Alexus: Glute activation drills are going to be included, yes. I'm not even sure it's the problem, but no sense getting hurt again if it's that simple a fix.

powersnatch: No, definitely not a tear this time. Actually this most recent one was a pretty minor injury, but it's better to have this info before I do tear the damn things. I might've had a tear when I hurt it in 2003 running track. My entire leg was black & blue, couldn't walk right for weeks.


I've attached at video of me doing push ups. If you look at the handles, they are: webbing and carabiner used in rock climbing (very high breaking strength) and handles made of pvc pipe (only about 400 pounds breaking strength) and the cord attached to the handles is made for rock climbing (close to 2000 pounds breaking strength).

If you just buy the webbing and carabiner, it will set you back about $20 (no need to get the most expensive carabiners; I bought a brand called Mad Rocks that cost about $6 retail at REI). You do not even have to make your own handles; just use D-handles at your gym.

Anyway, if you look at the handles, you'll see how it allows float lateral and medial.

When you're doing the pull ups/chin ups you can rotate a bit more. Once you dial in the EXACT amount of internal/external rotation that's right your body, you'll see how it protects your wrists, elbows, shoulders in the long run.

If body weight pull ups are too easy, use a dipping belt to increase the load. Also attach fat gripz or pipe insulation (my personal favorite) and you'll be amazed at how much harder the grip has to work. If you do not have fat gripz, just go to the local hardware store and purchase pipe insulation. I wrote about it here:

edit: I removed the video


Addendum: I'm headed to the gym this afternoon for legs. I'll post a detailed vid on the set up. Should be on the site by this evening.