There’s this big thing about leg day.
I think I see a dozen memes about leg day each and everyday.
Most of them revolve around leg day being hard (it isn’t) or squats giving you great glutes (they don’t always).
But I’ve never seen a meme about hamstrings…
They’re one of the most forgotten and under-rated muscle groups!
It’s easy to see why.
First things first, they’re in your legs. We all know that many people don’t train their lower body all that well.
Not only are they in your legs, but they’re in the back of your leg- i.e they don’t show up very well in a selfie.
Our lifestyles also lead to our hamstrings getting ‘switched off’. We can literally spend 10 or more hours a day sat on them.
From an inter and intra-muscular perspective, this doesn’t do them a whole lot of good.
It makes them sluggish, weak and harder to train. Most people just don’t have the ability to call their hamstrings into action like they do with their pecs or biceps.
A lot of people don’t really see how hamstrings are all that important either. Hamstring training usually involves a few sets of leg curl after some squats and leg press.
But maybe it’s because people don’t really know what the hamstring does. Maybe hamstrings are just misunderstood?
Well I’m here to change that (you can thank me later) and shed some light on why your hamstrings deserve top billing in your training, not just the grave-yard slot.
Your hamstrings are responsible for 5 main tasks-
They extend the hip:
Your hamstrings have two main functions in terms of how they move the joints they’re attached to. Aiding in hip extension is one of them.
It’s pretty crucial too!
Running, jumping, throwing, punching, kicking, picking things up off the floor, getting out of a chair. The list of movements involving hip extension is nearly endless!
They create flexion in the knee:
So as well as extending the hip, hamstrings also flex your knee.
Which helps you with pretty much everything your legs might do for you….
How often do you move with your knees locked out?
Between knee flexion and hip extension hamstrings are perhaps one of the most important muscle groups on your body!
They protect the knee from harm:
Your knee is a joint where many muscles big and small have attachments. The biggest of these muscles are in the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves groups of muscles.
For your knee to be healthy and strong, these major muscles must be exerting equal strength and tension across the joint.
However, very often quads and calves are relatively strong and tight muscles due to training and lifestyle habits and hamstrings are woefully underdeveloped.
This put the knee in quite a bit of jeopardy!
The tighter muscles of the quads and calves exert more pull on the joint than the hamstrings can and this puts the tendons and ligaments of the knee under strain.
There are people within the health, fitness and strength training industry who would go so far as to say that knee injuries are hamstring weakness in disguise.
They help to keep your hips in-line:
Those hips don’t lie.
At a glance they can tell you everything you need to know how a person exercises (or doesn’t) and a good deal about their daily habits.
I’m talking about pelvic tilt.
You see, the pelvis is at the centre of a complex game of tug of war. A lot of muscle groups attach to the pelvis and they all exert forces which influence how your pelvis orientates itself.
In our modern world full of chairs one very common side effect is that our pelvises tend to tilt forward into what is known as anterior pelvic tilt (APT).
This is because the muscles on the front of our hips like our quadriceps and the hip flexor group get short and tight and the muscles on the front of our trunk (in our core) and the glutes and hamstrings get weak and lazy.
From an athletic standpoint this can severely limit your performance on the field.
From an injury prevention standpoint its also a pretty bad spot to stay in. The misalignment doesn’t stop at the hip, it starts to move up and downstream too.
Your lumbar spine (lower back) has to over extend to compensate. To balance your chest and shoulders have to move forward giving you that lovely Quasimodo look in the process. Beneath the hip your knees will likely internal rotate, dragging your ankles and your feet into pronation with them.
I don’t mean to be the herald of doom, but staying in postures like that is a certain recipe for injury and pain.
Strengthening your hamstrings (as well as some other key muscle groups) is a big step in reverting APT.
They make your legs look juicy! :
Let’s be honest, everyone likes looking good from exercising. Even if you’re an athlete focused on performance, you want to look like you’re strong, healthy, and vital.
Hamstrings are one of those muscle groups that you see well developed so rarely that they’re even more striking when you do see a good set on somebody’s legs!
Much like you wouldn’t only train your biceps and never your triceps if you were looking for big arms, you can’t train just your quadriceps and expect to have big thighs.
Hamstrings aren’t only hugely functional, but they add to your athletic look too.
Now you understand why your hamstrings are vital to your results whether they’re cosmetic, athletic, or simply to avoid future pain and injury, how should you go about training them?
We will cover that in part 2 (because otherwise this article will be miles long!)
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Dan Mennell is a Personal Trainer and Strength Coach working in Staffordshire and Shropshire.
He writes regular fitness articles and creates other informative free-content.
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