Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Glutes and Hamstrings Conditioning is Critical

There are few injuries as bothersome and harder to recover from than glutes and hamstring injuries. Prevention of these injuries is the best solution.

Weak glutes and hamstrings can lead to other serious injuries. For example, female athletes tend to have weaker hamstrings because they use their quadriceps muscles more while walking and running.

This means females use their strong quadriceps muscles and do not adequately activate their weak hamstrings. The hamstring muscle group acts to protect the anterior cruciate knee ligament (ACL) and the opposing quadricep muscle group places stress on the ACL. Therefore, quadricep dominant muscle work demonstrated by any athlete places excessive stress (and many times serious injury) on the ACL.

Every athlete runs a higher risk of serious knee injury when the quadriceps are significantly stronger than the hamstrings. The best prevention for hamstring injuries and hamstring-related injuries are adequate flexibility and strength.

You are also at risk of a hamstring injury when the gluteus maximus doesn't fire properly. When the hip flexors are tight, they cause weakness in the gluteus maximus.

This often leads to the hamstrings doing the work that the gluteus maximus should be doing. And, since the hamstrings are not equipped to handle this type of workload, injury to the hamstrings is the result. Therefore, it is critical to have flexible hip flexors. Below is a good hip flexor stretch:

Try these flexibility and strength exercises for your hamstrings:

Hamstring Flexibility - walking lunges, resistance band eccentric stretch and static stretch (static stretch should be done after workout or game).

Hamstring Strength - lying or standing hamstring machine curl, deadlift, good morning exercise (with or without weights) and glute/ham raises.

Great athletes dominate dynamic movements with the hips, glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. Lateral speed is particularly created and maintained by the strength of the glutes and hips.

There are a host of injuries that arise when your hips are tight causing your glutes to not fire properly.

When your glutes (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus) don't fire properly, you can count on hamstring injuries. The hamstrings are left to do the work that your glutes (mainly gluteus maximus) should be doing.

The glutes don't fire properly when the hip flexors (psoas, iliacus, tensor fascia latae, etc.) are overactive or tight. This can happen due to poor flexibility or prolonged sitting. When the hip flexors don't work properly, its antagonist (mainly the gluteus maximus) becomes weak.

This is known as reciprocal inhibition (when muscles on one side of a joint become tight or overactive, it shuts down the muscles on the other side of the joint). When a prime mover (such as the gluteus maximus) becomes weak, other muscles (synergists) take over the function that the prime mover should be doing.

In this case, the synergists would be the hamstrings. Some other injuries that occur because of inactive glutes are piriformis syndrome, knee ACL tears and low back injuries.

Flexibility in all areas is crucial for your athletic success. The glutes/hips area cannot be left out of the flexibility puzzle. Jogging for 5 minutes is not enough. Specific flexibility and strength exercises for the glutes/hips area are needed.

The stretches are listed as follows (use self myofascial release with foam roller before doing these stretches):

1. Hip Flexor Stretch
2. Quadriceps Stretch
3. Bodyweight Lateral Lunges (for adductors)

Then, you need to activate (fire up) your glutes with these exercises:

1. Glute Bridge
2. Opposite Leg Opposite Arm Raise (Birddog)
3. Glute Kickbacks

Lastly, exercise the fired up glutes/hips with these exercises:

1. Bodyweight squats
2. Lateral tube walks
3. Dumbbell walking lunges and dumbbell lateral lunges
4. Step Ups on Knee High Platform

Don't undertrain or inadequately train your glutes and hamstrings!

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Mark Dilworth, BA, PES
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  1. As a female athlete I totally get when you're saying! I have knee pain here and there and am always worried about hurting myself. I do lots of walking lunges now, but will add the other exercises mentioned. Thanks so much-love your website!

  2. Nice info. Plus the tips and exercises eill be a great deal of help to me.

  3. Kelbell...let me know how your training is going...thanks for stopping by!

  4. Diet Doc....exercise and healthy eating is the key to fat loss and weight loss...thanks for the comment!

  5. Great info, but too late to see this. I'm female and have left ACL tore, no reconstruction, so I have only 3 ligaments left ... But on the other hand, if I were not suffered from this injury, I won't be looking out and finding your article. Monique

    1. Sorry to hear about your ACL tear Monique. Why didn't you do reconstruction? Are you doing rehab?

    2. Sorry to hear about your ACL tear Monique. Why didn't you do reconstruction? Are you doing rehab?


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