How To Bullet-Proof Your Hamstrings

Hamstrings are the bane of many Ultimate players’ existence. How many times has a tournament been cut short for you or your teammates by a hammy twinge or tear?



Hamstring weakness is common in a lot of Ultimate athletes because often very little attention is paid to their strength and flexibility. Quads may look more impressive, but some homage to your leg-biceps will go a long way towards keeping you on the field longer and with more consistency. Injury prevention is not the only benefit of strong hammies, about 25% of your vertical leap is attributed to hamstrings and they power a significant portion of the running movement.


Here are a couple of strength and mobility exercises you can use to bullet-proof your hamstrings.


Single-Leg, Straight-Leg Deadlifts (AKA 'SLSLDLs' AKA 'Drinking Birds')


This is a great unilateral exercise to add unweighted to your warm up regime or to try weighted in the gym. The best thing about this movement, is that it both strengthens and increases the flexibility of your hamstrings by loading them at their full extension. It's also a unilateral movement, meaning it's done on one leg, making it more suited to Ultimate than it's two-legged cousin, the Romanian deadlift.



Keeping one foot on the ground, simultaneously raise your back leg and lower your chest to the ground. Remember to keep your back straight and hinge from the hip, as opposed to bending your back to get depth. Slowly lower your torso to the point where you feel a stretch through your grounded-leg hamstring, then quickly snap back up, pulling through your hamstring and glute. Start unweighted, and do 3 sets of 10 reps both legs. As you get the form right and start to progress, you can add light dumbbells to either hand or eventually a heavier weighted barbell.


Form tips:

  • Lead by raising your back leg, and your torso will naturally dip. When starting out it can be easy to bend at the back and this helps to cue the correct hip hinge.

  • Cue correct alignment in your hips by pointing your back toe inwards. Many people will start doing this exercise with their back leg played wide, leading to incorrect hip alignment which in turn reduces the gains you’re getting from this movement. Ideally you want to keep your hips flat throughout.

  • Slightly bend your grounded leg, this helps with balance and still allows you to get a good hamstring stretch

  • Try to keep extending your torso depth and hamstring stretch as you progress, this will help you build more flexible hamstrings that are strong and their far extension

Hamstring sliders


I’d recommend doing these as a precursor to Nordics (below), to build that hamstring strength before exposing them to the very high eccentric loads present in Nordics. Sliders are great because you can get them very cheap, and all you need is a patch of carpet. If you want to take the really budget option, you can just use a folded towel on tiles or even a disc on carpet.



Start lying on your back, knees bent with both heels on a slider. Raise your butt off the ground and support your body with your hands down by your side. Slowly straighten your legs, keeping your butt off the ground. Once they’re at full extension, quickly pull your heels towards your butt using your hamstrings. You can start with 3 sets of 10 reps. As you progress, try only using one leg to support yourself, with your hands on the ground to assist when needed. You should be working towards doing these with one leg, and no hands on the ground.


Nordics


The viral exercise of 2018, Nordics are both impressive and beneficial to performance and injury prevention. In fact, they are one of the few exercises (along with their younger sibling, hamstring sliders) that have been proven to protect against ACL injuries.



To do these, kneel on a gym mat or folded towel (to protect your knees) and secure your feet to the ground, either with the help of a gym buddy, or a gap between a piece of gym machinery and the floor. Simply lower yourself down to the ground as slowly as you can, then release and fall to the floor using your hands to break your fall in a push up style position. Keep your butt tucked in throughout the movement and resist the urge to lower your body by bending at the hip. As you progress, try to extend the length of time you spend with your hamstrings under tension. Start with 3 sets of 5 reps.


Incorporate hammy sliders or Nordics into your regime about once or twice a week, as a super-set for another exercise. However, be careful. If overdone they can lead to tendonitis in or around the knee, so be smart and stop if you feel any lasting discomfort.


J Curls


This is a great hamstring mobility exercise if you struggle in this regard, or are looking for a more practical alternative to just holding a static hamstring stretch.



The Jefferson Curl is a strengthening and lengthening movement for the posterior chain, more specifically the hamstrings, as well as the spine and supporting tissues and muscles. Unlike goodmornings, SLSLDLs, and other posterior chain movements, the Jefferson Curl specifically reinforces segmented spinal flexion through a full range of motion, rather than movement with a neutral back.


In summary, hamstrings tear when they're not strong eccentrically. So strengthening work needs to be targeted at load and control in the lengthening phase. The other major risk factor with hammy tears is inconsistent sprinting loads. It's important that these exercises are either coupled with regular sprint sessions, or you ease back into those sprinting loads when you return to running after an off season. If you're not sprinting regularly and building those loads up, or you return to sprinting at a hectic pace, that's where things will come undone.


Even if you don't suffer from hamstring issues, make sure you're adding a hamstring strength and mobility session into your gym routine once or twice a week. They are an essential part of efficient movement around the field and will cause real problems if you are weak in that area.