Hamstring strains and pulls: Maybe look elsewhere for fault

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Please note this doesn’t only have to be about hamstrings. The important thing is we are talking about preventable injuries. Preventable in that we can reduce risk with proper training. These injuries are characterized by occuring without physical contact with another object. An example is the baseball player who comes up lame while running out a ground ball — nothing touched him, so why did he get injured??

The obvious thought is the hamstrings weren’t strong enough.

This is logical, but it doesn’t mean its always true.

The body is a bunch of connected pieces,  so the answer lies somewhere amongst these connections as well. In other words its usually not an issue with one single aspect/muscle/imbalance.

Let’s look at the large leg and hip muscles which perform movements similar to the hamstrings:

If we look at movement, the hamstring does hip extension and knee flexion. The big calf muscle does knee flexion too. The glutes and adductors perform hip extension too. They key is the glutes are the main hip extender. And the hamstring “main job” is knee flexion. Sometimes though the glutes don’t do their job well (this is very common without proper training actually), so what happens? The hamstrings are dialed in to pick up the slack.

Well if they now have 2 “main jobs” because the glutes can’t fulfill their main role and main hip extender, there is a greater chance of hamstrings getting worked to the max. If they work more than “to the max”, the hamstring gets pulled.

Now, this doesn’t mean the best solution is to just get the hamstring stronger. The imbalance still remains: the glutes can’t fully perform their job, so they ask hamstrings to help out more than they should. Getting the hamstrings stronger just basically means next time there will be a higher threshold (for level of force) before the hamstring gets pulled. The problem is this doesn’t address the cause.

It will be far more effective in the long-term to determine the cause of the hamstring pull and address the necessary areas. This is where we look at these other muscles as well as what’s too short, too long, etc. The common things tend to be weak glutes and/or poor activation of them combined with tight hip flexors.

So remember, any injury not cause my body contact with another person or object, it is smart to look at all the connecting pieces as addressing the root cause of the injury lies is some issue(s) involving these other structures too.

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Its as simple as carrying weights!

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THAT'S a farmer's carry!

Weighted carries have gained substantial popularity in the personal training and strength & conditioning fields the last few years, much via the writings and teachings of coaches like Dan John. Coach John is one of those mentors of the mentors guys in the field who is brilliant at teaching and brilliant at the basics.

Coach Dan John

Weighted carries are one of those basics. They are a total body exercise which trains the muscles to stabilize proper posture during movement (walking), an incredible amount of core work, rotator cuff activation and shoulder stability (which is essential for anyone from asymptomatic fitness enthusiasts to throwing sport athletes to contact sport athletes), and heart rate training (aka “cardio”). So in other words: Do you want to be stronger? Do you want to be more powerful? Do you want more confidence on the field because you’ve worked on preventing injuries common to your sport? (I going to assume to want these things to take your game to the next level.)

A few of my favourite variations to use are the most basic: farmer’s carry, heartbeat walks, bottoms-up waiter carries, suitcase carries, and some hybrids which can be implemented. But in essence, each training session we are after a slightly different stimulus with the carries, and select them based on prioritization of client needs.

For example, if I really want to hit some dynamic rotator cuff and stability stability function, I look at heavy farmer’s carries and bottoms-up walks for decent yardage. Amazingly simple and amazingly effective!

I’ve have a follow-up with some video for how I’ve modified some of these lifts as kettlebells are a commonly prescribed tool. However, many commercial gyms do not have kettlebells except in group exercise areas, and that’s no reason to not try these exercises!

In the meantime, pick some weight up, walk, put it down. Be brilliant at the basics!

Train Hard, Train Smart!

 

Your T-spine and you

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So we’re delving back into T-Spine territory again after sharing a drill I’ve incorporated in my clients’ warm-ups.

Today we’re hitting the basics: “Why is this t-spine stuff so important?”

First, “t-spine” is short for thoracic spine. Please, if you want your body to be a lean, mean, elite athlete machine, learn a bit about it.

Usually its about looking out for your low back or your neck, or your shoulder, or your knee, but never t-spine…at least not yet! It is still important however because it is in between your low back and neck. And since everything in your body is connected, it exists in a functional interplay with these objects. Something out of whack with your low back or neck? You got it, the t-spine will have a resulting shift in stress as well.

Why else is it important?

 

Computer guy. ‘Nuff said.

 

 

 

 

Your scapular (shoulder blade) mechanics are altered in this posture since the shoulder blades cannot lie flat against the ribcage,and so they’re in a bit of anterior tilt. Well now your acromion is depressed, and so there is increased likelihood that as you lift your arm up overhead/go into shoulder hyperflexion or abduction, your humerus is smashing up against Mr. acromion, and its a party that could lead to having pain. Pain that affects your training and athletic endeavours.

Or, your t-spine becomes stiff from being in that hunched-seated position and now you pretty much get flexion and extension via your low back and neck. Cool, they need to do that, except your t-spine is stiff remember. So your low back and/or neck have to pick up some slack so you can still move normally. Now you’re hoping that the extra movement at one of these segments doesn’t cause some issues with the discs in the lumbar or cervical spine

Pretty healthy cascade of events right?

But in all seriousness, this isn’t just to get you down about spending too much time on Facebook . The message is simply to take care of your business. If you know you sit at a desk all day at work or school, then do your t-spine and the rest of your body some favours when you train, by giving it the movement it should have but may not get in those societally-influenced environments. Another factoid: We all have some level of dysfunction going on, the key is to keep it from becoming symptomatic i.e. painful. Particularly if you want your body to throw 90 mph fastballs or hit 400-foot bombs. That’s a ton of force to produce through your body…its also a ton of stress on it. Take responsibility and reduce your risk of injury.

Movement-wise what can we take from our beloved computer guy above, and make into good training information?

Well, we can see he’s rounded through the upper back, called kyphosis. If you’re this flexed, you gotta get working on your extension. Grab a foam roller, set it at the base of your ribcage, extend over it a couple times, move the roller a quarter roll up your back, and repeat until you reach your shoulder blades.

Img from Bj Gaddour's fitstream.com

If its also this flexed, rotating it usually isn’t so hot either, so that’s a focus too. The drill from Friday is great for this.

So the typical recipe is mainly extension and rotation. Add these into your warm-up, one set of each, and you’ve helped counter the sitting and hunching over your subjecting your spine to each day. Congrats, that’s an investment in making yourself a bulletproof athlete* (or at least just an athlete who’s managing their injury risk.)

Train Hard, Train Smart!

* – Much like Red Bull does not actually give you wings, doing t-spine drills does not actually make you bulletproof. Don’t try to be a hero.