Strength Performance Network

Brady wrote me the following commenting on my original post: Vern, can you explain more in detail why almost every S&C coach uses the glute/ham raise or nordic hamstring curl with their athletes?  You are the first coach I have come across to go against the grain with this.  I know this is the most popular exercise I see with most athletes and every coach believes it is extremely beneficial.

Brady thanks for the question. It is a good question and a very fair question. Your comment nails the problem. The fact that coaches do these exercises without questioning the efficacy or application speaks volumes about the problem. I have never been one to do something just because everyone else was doing it. It is never only about the what – the exercise - I need to know and want to know the why before I adopt an exercise. It is usually a red flag when someone or a group proposes one or two exercises as a universal solution to a problem or as the answer in training.

I have a long history with the so-called Nordic hamstring curl, I call it the gaucho hamstring curl because a group of us training at UCSB (Team nickname – the Gauchos) used that exercise in 1975. Within two weeks of incorporating it into our training program (decathlon) there were three severe hamstring pulls at the insertion of the hamstring. Intuitively I knew it was counterproductive and later science verified my instincts. It definitely stressed the hamstring, but not the way it is stressed in sprinting. I eliminated from my toolbox in 1975.The scientific evidence on hamstring function was not available yet. The landmark article by Mann & Hagy that opened the door to understanding the real role of the hamstring in running was not published until around 1982.

My first exposure to the ham/glute raise was through some pictures I saw in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s of Russian Olympic lifters doing a similar looking exercise with their feet anchored in stall bars (Today called wall bars) and their hips on a gymnastics vaulting horse. It was an assistance exercise for the Olympic lifts. I tried it but did not see any real application beyond that what it was intended for. Around 1980 some “Russian” training experts introduced it as the ham/glue raise (first clue was that they were selling a machine). I tried it again, in fact bought an early version of the equipment, but by now we understood hamstring function. This exercise examined in the light of hamstring function is no more functional than a leg curl machine. Still I tried it thinking that I was missing something. Like the Nordic hamstring exercise I took it out of my toolbox.

Train movements that incorporate the hamstring group in similar patterns, muscle actions and in postures to what they must do in function. Perhaps it is just too simple in today’s world of high tech solutions to use lunges and step-ups but for me they have stood the test of time and they meet the requirements based on biomechanics of sprinting and muscle architecture. In summary ask yourself why you are selecting an exercise, just because everyone else is doing is not an acceptable reason that smacks of drinking the Kool-Aid. Be an independent thinker. Look closely at those who have experiences and who are not trying to sell something. Look critically at biomechanical and physiological studies to see what science says. Experiment on yourself to see what it feels like. Above all use common sense. There are usually simple solutions to complex problems.

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Comment by Carson Boddicker on May 16, 2011 at 9:16pm



Nice points and I'm inclined to agree.  There is way too much "monkey see, monkey do" going on without people looking into the "why" component of their program design.  I recognize that the "why" argument is often one of posterior chain strength augmentation, however, have come to agree that the positioning and the motor program don't really lend themselves well to anything beyond the esoteric.  I believe that it's Lieber's book that one can make a case against these exercises even histologically--high fiber length relative to total muscle length with small CSA. 

Where I've struggled with that notion, however, is with programming things like the RDL.  I see them as substantially valuable, but the contraction "regime" differs from how the hamstrings in particular are put together.  Step ups and lunges too, to an extent, have a similar issue.  My current thinking is that, while this matters and should not be ignored, all hamstring activity does not necessarily need to be high velocity especially when you accompany "general" training with more specific means that have similar contractile demands.  Improving overall contractile strength ultimately can potentiate that style of training whether by local adaptations or just central priming by changing the far right side.  As Charlie Francis said, "CNS stimulation anywhere, hits everywhere."   

How do you rationalize the use of any strength exercise along the posterior chain--hamstrings in particular--with this in the light? 

Comment by Matthew R DeLancey on May 16, 2011 at 2:52pm
RDLs and Goodmornings are my all time favorite hamstring movements...

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