It’s not all about the quads. I know, all that summer riding our bikes and running and now I’m telling you that those beefy quads you built up only play a “part” of the role in what’s going to keep your knees healthy and strong for slaying pow this winter.
It’s likely that we have all personally experienced, or know someone that has had a knee injury. The common ones we hear of are tearing the meniscus or the dreaded ACL. What can you do to stack the odds in your favor for keeping your knees healthy and stable? Let’s talk about your hamstrings and glutes and the role they play in the big picture.
While our quads are important and let's be honest, do get quite the burn on our powder days, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. Your quad is made up of four different muscles. The main role of the quads is to extend the knee but they also contribute to flexing (bending) your hip. This is accomplished most often when our feet are planted on the floor which is what is happening when you’re skiing/boarding. But what about the back half of your leg?
Your hamstrings are on the back of your thigh running from your hip to your knee. They are made up of three muscles and their primary role is to bend and rotate the knee, help lift the leg off the ground when walking or running, and check it out…. help stabilize the knee by protecting the collateral and cruciate ligaments, especially when the knee twists. THIS is why it’s so important that we have strong hamstrings.
Truthfully most of us likely don’t do movements that contribute to hamstring strength and development. Some of them have taboo associated with them as “no no” movements but that often comes from uneducated sources or old unsubstantiated data. Many of the activities we do in the summer contribute to quad strength but lack specific focus on the hamstrings. Running, cycling, hiking, etc. are generally quad dominant sports. A simple approach to strength training can help you target your hamstrings, see increased strength, and therefore more stability of the knee. You can add these to an existing strength routine or even do some of them at home. We will progress from simple (or easier) to more complex (or harder) movements for you to use in your training. Beginning with isometric or static holds is a friendly way to get started. From there more dynamic (moving through a range of motion in a controlled manner), and finally ballistic (often adding speed and deceleration to the movement). Follow this simple progression if you’re not sure where to start.
Assisted RDL/good morning hold:
The most friendly way to help people understand quality hinge mechanics and build confidence and awareness for posterior chain strength. The assisted version is generally going to be limited to those recovering from an injury or in a highly deconditioned state.
This movement requires hamstring, glute, low back, and even shoulder stability. Its simple approach is a great way to keep athletes in a generally safe environment, see what their general strength, and even stamina is, when it comes to posterior chain strength. It’s also an easy movement to implement with limited equipment or in a large group atmosphere.
We are still working a hinge pattern here but with a wider stance it allows a more upright torso. For some, this will be an easier position to achieve and could help them “feel” more engagement in their glutes. The wider stance can also be an excellent accommodation for those with hip impingement issues, obesity, or even the pregnant mama still training.
Starting from the top of the movement can be an excellent teaching tool for truly setting ourselves up for success when it comes to lowering weight. The mechanics are the same as the good morning but with the weight in our hands and shorter lever arm created with the barbell placement, it allows for significantly more loading.
Light loading with this can be an excellent way to teach hinge mechanics that apply to any deadlift, kettlebell swing, and a variety of Olympic lifts or their variations. With additional weight, these can be incredibly challenging on the midline due to the large lever arm created by the bar position. Increasing strength here can lead to breakthroughs in other lifts like your squat and deadlift.
Depending on the object and which hand is holding the weight you can work varying degrees of difficulty with the single leg variation of the RDL. This single-leg movement offers a lower barrier to entry than some of the other movements you would see like a reverse foot elevated lunge.
Russian Kettlebell Swing
The first introduction of using momentum with the weight and learning the concept of decelerating the weight and changing its direction. The limited loading makes this much easier and often avoids athletes using their arms too much.
The addition of dropping under the barbell, with potentially significant loading, shows the need for deceleration. These are excellent for producing power and often a great option for youth athletes from a hang variation since there is less complexity than generally any other Olympic lift.
If you’re looking for a starting point with reps, loading, and frequency; keep it simple. For isometric work you can start with three sets of :20 second holds with roughly :90 sec of rest between your work sets.
The dynamic and ballistic movements can be done in 3-5 sets with varying repetitions. Generally reps of 8-12 for the three sets of work and reps of 3-5 for the five sets of work.
As a reminder, try starting off with some isometric work. If this feels good and you are feeling strong don’t be afraid to challenge yourself with some more of the dynamic movements and even the addition of some weight. How should it feel? Challenging for the work set but something you can focus on quality position with and not go to failure. Adjust the loading as needed from set to set and you will learn what weight works well for you in no time.
Take time at the start of your season to start things on the right foot by dedicating some specific training to those hamstrings! If you have any questions or would like some more resources on movement patterns and how to implement them check out my Instagram for some insight and information.
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