The 8 Best Exercises to Save Your Knees – Part Two: The Hamstrings

Ok, so in Part One we addressed how to train the VMO through the top, middle and bottom range using five different exercises.

 

This article can be viewed here

 

In this part two of the series we will cover the best exercises to train the hamstrings.

 

To recap, the Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO).

  • Is a crucial muscle for preventing knee valgus
  • Supports proper tracking of the Patella
  • Is commonly weak relative to the other quadriceps muscles.

Along with the VMO the hamstrings play a crucial role in aiding knee stability and prevention of ACL rupture.

The hamstrings are a large muscle group located on the back of the thigh. The hamstring group consist of the Semimembranosus (medial), Semitendinosus (central) and Biceps Femoris (lateral).

hamstrings

To save your knees and to greatly prevent the chances of a possible ACL rupture - develop more hamstring strength!

Following ACL rupture it very common practice in rehab programming to focus heavily on the quadriceps and glutes but little attention is paid to the knee flexion aspect of the hamstrings.

We commonly see that the hamstrings are weak and underdeveloped  when compared to the quadriceps in those that have suffered ACL rupture (Myer et al). This indicates that more emphasis needs to be placed on strengthening the hamstrings as a preventive measure.

The hamstrings function like a second ACL ligament. Preventing the femur from displacing forward over the tibia when under heavy breaking forces. When the hamstrings are weak, this puts the ACL at greater risk of injury as the hamstrings are unable to do their job fully.

Knee ACL hamstrings

When training the hamstrings we need to remember they have two primary functions, which is knee flexion and hip extension. So when designing a training program it is imperative to address both of these functions utilising different exercises.

The knee flexion aspect of the hamstrings consists of 70% fast twitch fibres. For this reason high repetitions are not warranted and keeping repetitions below 10 per set is most beneficial.

When training the hamstrings we need to also consider training all three muscles that make up this muscle group. For this reason I would use multiple foot positions.

Below I will outline three of the best exercises and their variations for developing hamstring strength. Please remember this is not a complete list, and there are many more fantastic hamstring exercises that for a given athlete may be more suitable at the time depending on the circumstances.

The Hamstring Curl

The hamstring curl is the king of exercises when training knee flexion. The lying, kneeling and standing hamstring curls are the best machines to tackle this task.

When using the hamstring curl it is best to perform these unilaterally in the initial General Preparatory Phases of training. This will allow for the correction of any imbalances from the left to right sides.

Also it is important to train all the three muscles that make up the hamstring group. This can be done by changing the foot position.

Pointing the toes out (duck feet) will hit primarily the biceps femoris. Having the toes neutral will primarily recruit the semitendinosus. While turing the toes inwards (pigeon toed) will cause the semimembranosus to be more highly recruited.

Here the Single Leg Lying Leg Curl is demonstrated.

Below are the foot positions the can be used. (turned out and plantar flexed, neutral and plantar flexed, turned in and plantar flexed, turned out and dorsi flexed, neutral and dorsi flexed, turned in and dorsi flexed)

leg curl toes plantar and turned out. HamstringsLeg curl toes plantar. HamstringsLeg curl toes plantar and turned in. HamstringsLeg curl toes dorsi flexed and turned out. HamstringsLeg curl toes dorsi flexed. HamstringsLeg curl toes doors flexed and toes turned in. Hamstrings

The Glute Ham Raise

The glute Ham Raise on a Glute Ham Develper (GHD) is another fantastic exercises for training knee flexion. This exercise is more advanced and you will require a significant amount of hamstring strength before programming these in.

The video below outlines a regression of the exercise where a Power Band can be used to help complete the lift.

The 45 degree Hyper Extension

The 45 degree hyper extension is a great tool to develop the posterior chain. While the Hamstring Curl and the Glute Ham Raise, train the lower half of the hamstrings responsible for knee flexion the 45 degree Hyper trains the upper portion of the hamstrings and the glutes reponsible for hip extension.

Again, similar to the leg curl, the foot position can be varied to turn the toes in, out or straight to recruit different hamstring muscles.

The majority of trainees are weaker through the semimembranosus so programming to have the toes turned inwards is always a safe place to start.

Bonus Exercise!

The Single leg Standing Calf Raise

The Gastrocnemius muscle crosses the knee joint as well and plays a important role in stabilising the knee joint.

Again like the hamstring curl performing this exercises unilaterally in the initial phases of training will help clear up any imbalances from side to side and improve activation of the gastroc.

When training the Gastrocnemius consider it has a mixed fibre type with an emphasis on fast twitch properties. So when training standing calf raises using reps of 8 to 10 in the initial phases is recommended.

Now, thats great, but how would I lay this out in a training program ?

I will save that for part three. Where I will layout a full example program using these exercises that will strengthen up the muscles surrounding the knee to help create bullet proof knees