Imagine you have back pain or knee pain that seems to be getting worse and not better. You have done everything over-the-counter you can think of to help with the pain. But no heat, ice or ‘magic rub’ seems to be doing the trick. And the pain continues to get worse and worse, causing you to stop more and more activity.
What if I told you the answer wasn’t stopping activity but actually adding activity. I know seems like the complete opposite of what you should do when you have pain. Actually adding activity? But why? And can’t that wind up hurting worse then when it started.
What most people don’t realize is that the reason they have pain is due to muscle imbalances. One or several muscles is working harder than the others, this imbalance causes knots that can lead to pain. One of the biggest problems with weakness we see in the body is with the hamstrings.
The quads (or the muscles in the front of the leg) are very well defined and the hamstrings (the muscles in the back of the leg) are non existent. But your body can’t let the quads work harder otherwise you would not be able to walk. Imagine someone pulling extremely hard on one side of the rope and another person barely resisting on the other side of the rope. The rope would be pulled in the direction of the person pulling harder and if the person pulled too hard, the other person would fall over.
Same thing with the quad and hamstring relationship. And the truth is the quads are pulling hard enough to pull teh hamstrings over so the hamstrings recruit help from the other muscle groups and this is where the pain starts. The other muscle groups are not used to working that hard and give out, it may even cramp up on you.
This improper use of other muscles is what begins to cause pain in the back and in the knee. That is why strengthening is the answer in this case. If you strengthen the hamstrings the other muscles do not have to work as hard and therefore, will relax enough to allow the pain to stop.
The problem is with hamstring exercises, most people cheat because they hamstring are so weak. So I’m going to actually take you through a couple progressions and show you what not to do and what to do in order to perform the exercises correctly.
The first exercise is going to to use a ball. You don’t have to use a ball but when you get to that point it is necessary to make the exercise more challenging. We will start with a bridge. This is where some people needs to start. Then you want to progress to a hamstring curl.
If you’re just starting off exercising your hamstrings probably don’t want to do the curl right away. So start with the bridge. For the bridge you’re just going to push your butt off the table nice and easy as high as you can. The goal is to get it as high as you can, you’re going to lower it down nice and slow. If you really want to really make it a challenge don’t actually rest all the way down, just keep going nice and easy through the motion.
To make it even harder you can lift one leg up. As you do that, you want to make sure that your hips stay level. If your feet are flat on the floor, you want to make sure you imagine there are four points on the bottom of your foot, little toe, big toe, inside of your heel, outside of your heel. You want to be pushing through those equally to push your butt off the table. A common mistake is people using their toes to push themselves up.
Another suggestion to activate the core and the hamstrings is to put a pillow in between your knees and squeeze. That’s going to allow you further engage that hamstring and core. Then to go right into the hamstring curl you are going to roll the ball out and in. Make sure that as you do this you aren’t dropping your hips down as you roll the ball in. Make sure the hips stay level and you’re rolling it in nice and easy. If you want to make it challenging keep the hips up the whole time. If this is too difficult, drop the hips back to the table each time.
You also want to make sure that you are extending your leg almost all the way straight and then bringing it all the way to your butt. If you can’t do that, you’re not ready for that single leg step up yet. You want to do about 30 repetitions on both legs. If you cramp up, stop and take a break then continue. If it causes pain then stop and consult your physical therapist.
The next exercise is a full squat. The only way to activate your hamstrings and your glute medius is to go below 90 degrees. There is nothing wrong if you are a doing squat in proper form that you can’t go below 90 degrees. It actually puts more pressure on your knees if you wind just going to 90 and stopping. All you’re doing is a quad exercise at that point.
You really need to start with 30 body weight squats with perfect form going up an down before you load anything onto your back. This is probably one of the biggest mistakes I see happen in the gym is that people are so eager to put a bar on their back and to squat with weight and they can’t do 30 body weight squats.
You have to watch as you go down that your knees do not go in. They still go out, in line with your toes, but that they do not go over your toes. Also as you go all the way down to the ground you wind up bringing your knees together to stand up. That’s an indication of weakness. Start with doing just doing squats to a bench. Then progress to single leg squats to a bench.
The last exercise we’re going to do a single leg dead lift. People like to load these pretty quickly with weight and I see maybe 15% of the population doing them correctly. You leg and back and upper body has to move as one unit. Your leg should go first and your back should only follow after your leg moves. The only reason your back should start to come forward is that your leg is so high it cannot go any further without moving your back. You should do these in front of the mirror.
A big mistake that people make when doing this exercise is they rotate their hips. You want to keep your hips square to the floor. If one hip starts to rotate up you need to stop and reset yourself. And the other mistake that people make is that they do not stay in a straight line, their hips, and leg and back. Usually the back begins to drop and they wind up in a “V” position. There should be a solid straight line from the upper back through the leg.
Once you can do 30 on each leg nice and slow and controlled, you can progress to adding a weight in front.
If you would like an exercise audit or more ways that you can strengthen your hamstring and you live in Bucks or Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania, then click here to claim your FREE 2 week trial and have one of our body experts reintroduce you to your hamstrings.