In the history of sports, one thing that has rarely, if ever, been said is, "I think I'm getting too fast." Every player at every level works on speed in one way, shape or form. Whether explosive quickness off the dribble, breakaway speed after the catch or a long run for a diagonal ball into space, players with an extra gear are always in demand. Make yourself indispensable by targeting hamstring workouts in your strength program to add more power to your hip extension, and in turn shave a few ticks off your 40 time.
How do the hamstrings affect speed?
Common sense dictates that the more horizontal force you are able to generate quickly and powerfully, the faster you'll propel yourself. Hamstrings are the primary force in horizontal force production; therefore, it makes sense that all athletes everywhere should treat their backsides as their money-makers.
For you to generate maximal horizontal force, your hamstrings must play an active roles in your running/sprinting technique. Think of how an oar propels a boat while moving against the resistance of the water. This (though not exactly) is similar to how your hamstrings pull your leg under your body and, when your foot is in contact with the ground, propel you forward.
Unfortunately, more often than not, the posterior chain (including the hamstrings, glutes and back muscles engaged in hip extension) is one of the most neglected areas of an athlete's body. Hip extensors, when strong and powerful, increase force production in backside mechanics and confer the additional benefit of balancing out the quadriceps, which are often disproportionately stronger.
Add these three exercises to your hamstring workouts before you're passed up by someone who does.
1. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts (Romanian Deadlifts)
If your hamstrings are weak, chances are they are also tight, so ease into this one as your flexibility increases. (This can be said for all of these exercises, so if you have no experience with strength training or posterior chain movements, please seek out a qualified strength and conditioning specialist.)
- Stand holding a barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip, and slowly lower the weight to the ground, keeping your legs straight but not locked out.
- Maintain a neutral spine throughout the motion and keep your chest big (i.e., don't bend at the lower back or let your shoulders round forward).
- At the end of your range of motion, powerfully return to the start position.
- Vary your training load and volume to accommodate training for power, strength and hypertrophy.
2. Banded Nordic Curls
We prefer using the banded version of this exercise, because it allows more stability to be maintained throughout the torso. We see fewer hips pushing back and less use of the upper-body push at the bottom to assist the movement.
- Attach a resistance band to an anchored bar or pole and kneel on some sort of padding. (It's easier to perform with a partner holding your heels down, but it can be done with some strategically placed weighted bars as well.)
- Keeping your shoulders, hips and knees in a straight line, contract your glutes, abs, lats and hamstrings as you slowly lower yourself to the ground.
- At the bottom of the movement, give yourself a little boost with your hands and pull yourself back to the start position. Of course, the resistance of the band greatly affects this exercise, so use a band that allows you to complete the movement with a good balance of power and control.
- Because of the eccentric focus of this exercise, use caution when first trying it.
3. Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
We actually prefer a slideboard to the stability ball, but more people have access to stability balls than slideboards, so the two are interchangeable here.
- Place your feet flat on top of a stability ball and lift your hips so your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line, your knees are at a 90-degree angle and your shoulders are the only point of contact with the ground.
- Maintain a stable core and extend your legs out. Your shoulders should still be the only point of contact with the ground, and your body should be in a straight line.
- Forcefully pull your heels back in toward your body to return to the starting position.
- Actively stabilize your core throughout the exercise.
- For an added challenge, perform on one leg.
This list is far from exhaustive, but each exercise above incorporates an eccentric emphasis that will help make your hamstrings more durable and will use the stretch-shortening cycle to increase force production. Supplement these with a program featuring big hip-extension movements like Deadlifts, Cleans, Kettlebell Swings and Hip Thrusts.
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