More than a few of our students like to get into the debate about football and specifically the strength and conditioning focus that is prevalent within the sport. I choose to listen to this from a distance as although I have worked with players all the way up to international standard, I am respectful of the fact that I have never played professionally and the trainers who work with players day to day have more of an understanding of the workings of the game behind the scenes than I do.
My observation about hamstrings comes down to the fact that I am not sure that they get the stimulus they need in training, or the time they require in warm-ups, to be as effective during a game. This, coupled with some other factors, means that the professional footballer, who we must remember is a highly talented athlete, could still be compromised when required to make a movement that takes him away from his comfort zone and into a performance zone. It is my belief, and so I do not have a massive amount of data behind this, that the average professional footballer does not come out of his comfort zone often, yet because of his ability to read the game and time runs, he plays far better than most would. To go further I would say the footballers who are leaning on their physical attributes to make up for their lack of ability on the field are the ones most susceptible to injury.
In this zone of performance then it makes sense that the structures that have a role in protecting the knee, and acting as connectors between the foot and the hip, will be at most risk. Specifically the ones that are working both to stabilise and produce force. The Hamstrings are an obvious muscle group at risk in these situations. At full stretch, with a foot that is lacking mobility because of something simple such as an ill fitting boot, the hamstring has nowhere to hide.
If the whole body had been conditioned with the skill to get out of these situations, then the risk of injury would come down. When these movements, impacts or force production incidents occur in a game, there would then be far more chance of the Hamstrings remaining strong and less susceptible to damage.
With this in mind, let’s look at a table, taken from the Specialist in Functional Performance where we have a detailed look at the Hamstring in three planes and with its preference to training.
Using this chart as a reminder of how we believe the Hamstrings really do function, we should then look at our conditioning programme. As I have no insight into the set up of Strength and Conditioning in the Premiership football teams, I will presume that they avoid exercises that work the hamstrings in a loaded full range, and instead using ground reaction to develop them. This would seem the best way of ensuring that the player has the strength within the skill required when performance dictates that the hamstrings will take the brunt of the force in a movement.
I would suggest that players I work with use a compilation of hops, to free their foot and to get the Hamstrings proprioceptively warm (my made-up way of saying getting the player sufficiently stimulated through his nervous system) to allow him to reduce his risk of getting into movements that he cannot readily get out of.
Two of the exercise drills I would do:
Medicine Ball Slams, to utilise the stability aspect of the muscle, especially around the pelvis.
Then a moving exercise: in and out of sync jumps, to challenge the knees and the hips to work as both accelerators, and decelerators at both the hip and the knee at the same time.
These would not be exclusively my programme, but I think they give you an idea of the thought process I would be following in order to make sure that the players was as safe from a performance injury as I could make him.
by John Hardy