Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Unconventional Exercise for Hamstring Strength

Confession: I have weak hamstrings. Very weak hamstrings. As such, I’ve needed to ensure that my training includes exercises that will bring up the strength of those stubborn muscles on the back of my legs. In the process of solving this dilemma, I came up with an exercise that will also help athletes improve their performance via stronger hamstrings. Now, the last exercise we would have one of our (healthy) athletes perform to increase their hamstring strength is the leg curl.


They’re a terrible waste of time (again, outside of rehab and special population scenarios). While most people understand that hamstrings function to flex the knee (which is what the leg curl trains), they neglect that the hamstrings play a CRITICAL role in hip extension. The hamstrings are the body’s second most powerful hip extensor – just behind (no pun intended) the glute max!


For athletes, strong hamstrings can be invaluable as they play crucial role: resisting (eccentrically) knee flexion during sprinting. Take home point: stronger hamstrings make you faster!

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Enter the Band-Assisted Sissy Ham (or “Russian Leg Curl”). I came up with this exercise as I was helping some of our athletes perform pullups with band assistance. I had an “ah-ha” moment and decided to find a way to give myself (and others) band assistance during the sissy ham. In the video below, the first half will show me performing the sissy ham without the band. Then, I perform it with the aid of a band (attached above me). Notice there is now no arm push needed to help on the concentric (the “up”) portion of the lift.

Now, I’m sure there are people out there doing this exercise. I’ve just never seen a video or read about it, so I wanted to share it with those reading this.

This is such a fantastic exercise as it trains, simultaneously, both functions of the hamstrings: knee flexion and hip extension (which is how our hamstrings are utilized in athletics, anyway). It also makes for a more tangible progression than the regular sissy ham/russian leg curl. As you get stronger, you can lessen the band tension (as opposed to subjectively measuring "how fast you fall" during the regular sissy ham).

As strength coaches, our mission (behind keeping people healthy) is to improve movement quality, performance, and strength and power. We also only have roughly 150 minutes a week to do this. This being the case, you won't find us filling 10 of those 150 minutes wasting time on an isolated leg curl. I could think of a million things athletes would be better off spending their time doing (placing their hand on a heated frying pan being one of them). This exercise isn't appropriate for everyone (it's EXTREMELY difficult, although it may not appear so if you haven't tried it), but, for the right people, it's phenomenal.

Note: Even if you're not an athlete, this exercise will still be wayy more beneficial for developing your hamstrings than the leg curl. It will also work well for the long-distance runners in the crowd!


Brian E said...

Stevo this is great!

Niel K. Patel said...

Agreed, excellent video!

Dan Hogarty said...

Great idea and video! I've been wanting to strengthen my hamstrings. I'll have to adapt this for my workout space. The French seem to have no concept of working out so gyms are only open at useless hours, and that's if you're lucky enough to have a gym in town.

Stevo said...

Haha, Dan, I hope you find more ways to workout amongst the french in Europe. I'm glad you found the video helpful!

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