Running Performance and Hamstring Injury Prevention:A Field Sport Model
This is a very insightful and thought provoking article by Dean Benton, a colleague, GAIN Faculty member and Athletic Performance Director of Brumbies in Super Fifteen Rugby. Hopefully this brief overview will provide some food for thought and perhaps stimulate another look at the whole hamstring prevention, injury rehabilitation spectrum.
In recent years the speed at which AFL and both the Rugby codes is played at has increased considerably. As such, sprinting and repeat sprint demands have also increased across all football codes. Corresponding with these changes has been an increase in hamstring related injuries.
Aside from attempting to train athletic qualities to meet the demands of the game it is also a consideration to condition players for intense sprinting from an injury prevention standpoint. Not exposing players to rapid acceleration and high speed during a pre-season can actually be doing them a disservice.
Research has shown that the hamstring activity is not significant until speeds above 90% of maximum speed are attained (Kyröläinen, Komi, & Belli, 1999). Improvements in speed and adaptation to sprinting can take several months. A long-term, systematic and collaborative approach needs to be taken in preparing players for optimal running performance and injury prevention.
It is impractical to discuss running performance without considering strength training and vis-versa. Both of these areas of athletic development should complement each other.
Running technique training for all running sports should be fairly obvious, but the necessary attention to detail and the time required to carry this out puts coaches off. In reality most field sport athletes can learn and get by with a rudimentary running technique. As mediocrity is habitually accepted, quite often a disproportional amount of training is directed to solely developing the energy systems in order to make performance gains. Ironically, a lack of attention to the mechanical aspects of running can result in athletes ‘leaking’ enormous amounts energy with every foot strike and overstriding - the latter of which puts the hamstrings in a vulnerable position at ground contact. Poor technique when running curves and angles will put more stress on the hamstrings because of the work they have to do in the transverse plane.
The primary difference between track athletes and field sports with regard to good or poor running technique is in lower limb mechanics. Efficient upper body technique (i.e. arm drive) can be resolved and taught quickly. The three main errors that occur from the waist down can be improved effectively within a team sport setting with running technique drills that involve no arms or placed overhead. An ancillary benefit of these running technique drills is that they improve general coordination and dynamic balance by default, which often transfers to more fluid running mechanics.
Gait is the cornerstone of function. If an athlete has the ability to operate their musculoskeletal system efficiently they will tolerate greater stress, strain and load.
Hip mobility or a lack thereof is the genesis of many hamstring problems. Without proper hip mobility the leg will not be able to work through the full range of motion. This limitation will eventually lead to flawed mechanics - especially in a fatigued state.
The hamstrings do not work alone, they need help. In particular, the hip abductors play a major role in stabilization. If they are weak or not coordinated with the hamstrings more strain will be placed on the hamstring group. Excessive sway or lateral deviations that forces the synergistic stabilizing muscles to work too hard subsequently shifts more stress to the hamstrings (Gambetta & Benton, 2006).
The Mach series drills should rightly be placed in the functional development category. Particularly when they coached as resisted technique drills (as opposed to resisted running). They serve as tremendous developers of anterior hip ROM and specific posterior hip strength (stance leg), as well as facilitators of calf complex stiffness. They do not necessarily improve running technique directly, but indirectly provide the means to express better technique.
Functional hamstring strength training should be seen as coordination training with resistance. Furthermore, choice of exercises needs to be based on how the hamstrings behave not based on anatomy (Bosch & Klomp, 2005).
Bosch, F and Klomp, R 2005. Running: biomechanics and exercise physiology in practice, Elsevier, London.
Gambetta, V., & Benton, D. (2006). A Systematic Approach to Hamstring Prevention & Rehabilitation. Sports Coach