HAMSTRING PULL

By John | Published: March 20, 2012

John, 

I have been following CrossFit Football for several months now, and have been following CrossFit for about 4 years now.  I just pulled my hamstring and if it is anything like my last pull I will be out 4-6 weeks.  Is there anything I can do to minimize my loss in strength and conditioning?

Also, in hopes on not sounding too gay, do you think adding yoga into my routine would be a good idea given that this is my second hamstring pull in 4 months? 

Thanks,

Josh 

Josh,

First, there is nothing wrong with Yoga. While, I am not a regular practitioner, I have done Yoga on many occasions and believe it can help with flexibility and recovery.

I would caution against any form of yoga that just focuses on passive range of motion, as I believe this can cause issues. I prefer active poses where the body is gaining motion while the muscles are firing. This is more closely related to sport and training.

We have all seen people who have excellent flexibility when they are relaxed and stretching out. But put them under a bar, and they cannot squat anywhere near parallel and at best their movements look painful and awkward.

I have always looked at lifting weights as both strengthening and stretching my muscles. The strength gained during active range of motion is vital to flexibility when it matters most.

Second, I am not convinced that is your lack of flexibility is the only player in your hamstring pull.

Here is what I know about hamstrings.

1. Tight hamstrings are weak hamstrings. And tight, weak hamstrings can pull the pelvis into posterior pelvic tilt. The upper connection of the hamstrings becomes weaker as that connection becomes tighter, preventing its proper function in keeping the pelvis properly aligned. Knowing this, you need to start stretching your hamstrings. Google hamstring stretches and in .0001 seconds 6 billion results will be staring you in the face. I am 100% positive Kelly Starrett has addressed this issue many times on the flash mob known as Mobility WOD.

In the not so distant past, I was having an issue with my squat. As I started to descend I would get a mild shake in my legs, almost like I could not control the weight. After a few inches it would go away, I would hit the hole and stand up no problem only to have the shake two inches from lockout. The next day I happened to be return a phone call from Louie Simmons and I asked him about the shake. His answer was brief and to the point.

Weak low back.

He told me the only lifters he has seen with a shake or wobble in the legs at the beginning and ending of the squat had a weakness in the low back.He then went on to say a weak back leads to hamstring issues. Strengthen the low back and hamstring pulls are a non-factor. He had seen dozens of football players over the years with hamstring pull after hamstring pull. Every one of them had a weak low back and flat erectors.

I took Louie’s advice, I hit the reverse hyper machines 4 days a week, start pulling from different pin heights in the rack and added good mornings. In a few weeks the shake was gone and my squat blew through the roof. You could say my low back was holding me back. I would venture to say the girl in the picture below has never had any hamstring issues….WOW.

2. A weak low back is a major player in hamstring pulls. Strengthen the back and the hamstrings will follow. We can take it a step further and understand that most people with a weak low back have instability or a glaring weakness in their abdominal strength.

If you examine Louie’s comment it makes sense. Almost all of the Westside squat training is done off a box. The lifter sits back with a vertical to negative shin angle and does an explosive hamstring curl to propel him off the box. After the box squat they head over and hammer their low back and hamstrings with the reverse hyper machine. Next they use a hamstring curl machine and the back attack. You could say the WSB training is all about the posterior chain, and if anyone knows the benefit of the strong backside it is Louie. In addition to focusing on the low back, Louie trains the hell out of the abdominal muscles. It is almost impossible to squat or deadlift a 1000 lbs with a weak trunk. Take a look at this video of Konstantinov deadlifting.

 

3. Muscles pull or tear due to imbalances. The body is all about the weakest link. Put the body under stress, and you will find your weaknesses very quickly. It will be the one thing preventing you from completing your task. For example, tight hips, strong quads and weak hamstrings are a recipe for hamstring problems, as the hamstring becomes the weakest link. The balance between the hamstring and quad is vital, as too strong a quad can literally rip a hamstring to shreds. I have read there is some magic ratio of 3:4 for hamstring to quad strength, but I have no reference for this. We don’t do very many single jointed movements in my program, so I am not sure how it would test it. But I would keep it in mind when examining my training volume and exercise selection.

My hamstring remedy prescription is as follows:

– Wait for your hamstring to heal before you start stretching. Everybody makes the mistake of wanting to stretch all of sudden after a hamstring pull. Wait for it to heal before you start stressing it.

– Once it heals, stretch your hamstrings 2-3 times a day. 15 minutes a day is doable for even the busiest person.

– Strengthen your back and hamstrings with a steady diet of squats below parallel, full GHR, good mornings, reverse hypers, RDLs and pin pulls from various heights. By the time someone mistakes your erectors for steel cables, hamstring pulls will be a distant memory.

– Train the abdominal muscles daily. Anyone that has been to a CFFB seminar knows their warm up should include dead bugs and pillars.

– Learn to sit back in your squat and fight for a more vertical shin angle. This will put a larger load on your hamstrings and work to strength them. Never shove your knees way forward in front of your toes. That puts all the force on the quads and does little for the hamstrings and glutes.

On a personal note, I have never had any hamstring pulls or tears, but then again, I always had a strong back. I have torn my groin, hip flexor and my left calf as those must have been my weak links. They healed up and I was able to keep playing, but it takes time to return to 100%. While the calf healed, I am missing a large divot where my  gastrocnemius used to attach, not very pretty. I have never had issue with it other than the pudgy guy at our seminar in Europe that asked my why my calf was so small.