Is Your Game Hamstrung?
Basketball players tend to focus a lot on the quadriceps (muscles in front of the thigh) when doing strength training often neglecting the hamstrings. This severe muscle strength imbalance often leads to hamstring pulls or tears. And just as importantly, players with weak hamstrings also simply don’t play as well as shown in a study of national basketball teams.
Why focus on the hamstring?
In a study1 amongst national basketball team divisions, division I players have significantly higher significantly peak torque (explosive power) than the lower divisions in both the quads and hamstrings. Running fast is not simply a result of the legs pushing off the floor with the quads; but also the result of the hamstring and the glutes pulling back the hips. Explosive power from both the quads and the hamstrings are crucial to high performance plays.
The hamstring is a group of large, powerful muscles that covers the back of the thigh, from the lower pelvis to the back of the shin bone. The hamstring functions to extend the hip joint and flex the knee joint. If the quadriceps is far stronger than the hamstrings, it can easily overpower the hamstrings, tearing or straining them during vigorous game play. Sadly, hamstring pulls rank high amongst the most common injuries to bench a player. Just recently in April, Forward Luke Walton missed the Lakers' game at Sacramento with a strained right hamstring.
Are you hamstrung?
Common symptoms of a pulled hamstring include :
- Bruising from small muscle tear and bleeding,
- Muscle spasm and,
- Difficulty in contracting the muscle or flexing the knee.
- Pain on walking especially upslope and sprinting.
Some immediate steps to take include applying R.I.C.E.R. (Rest Ice Compression Elevation and Referral). Seek a doctor or physiotherapist’s attention if you have difficulty walking or the pain is quite significant.
Hamstring of Steel
This exercise is great to build up really strong hamstrings.
- Place your knees on the glute-ham bench with your ankles firmly supported and assume an upright position, with hips and shoulders in line with knees. If you don’t a bench, work with a partner to hold your feet down.
- Tighten your buttocks and tuck your tummy in so your pelvis is in the neutral position.
- Slowly lower your whole body forward until you feel a pull in your hamstrings.
- Squeezing your buttocks throughout the movement to keep your hips extended.
- Stop when you feel a little strain in the hamstrings.
Pause for moment and raise your body back to the start position. Your hamstrings will work very hard to get you back up. Watch for excessive movements from the back. If you feel your back muscles tightening up much and starts to ache, you could be using your back extensor muscles to compensate.
To make it easier to start with, bend at the hips a little or use your hands to help you back up at first. As you get stronger, you will be able to complete the movement up and down smoothly. If at first you cannot lean very far forward, this will also improve with practice. Aim to get as far forward as possible to work the hamstrings through a full range of motion.
Perform two sets of five reps at first, building up the range of motion. Once you can complete a full range all the way down and up, keeping your body straight, increase to three sets of 8-10 reps. Don’t forget to do sprint work to build up the explosive strength of your hamstring. And lastly stretch them out. Longer hamstrings produce more explosive power.
- Peak torque of quadriceps and hamstring muscles in basketball and soccer players of different divisions, Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 1995
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