Hamstring Pull

John, 

I have been following CrossFit Football for several months now, and have been following CrossFit for about 4 years now.  I just pulled my hamstring and if it is anything like my last pull I will be out 4-6 weeks.  Is there anything I can do to minimize my loss in strength and conditioning?

Also, in hopes on not sounding too gay, do you think adding yoga into my routine would be a good idea given that this is my second hamstring pull in 4 months? 

Thanks,

Josh 

Josh,

First, there is nothing wrong with Yoga. While, I am not a regular practitioner, I have done Yoga on many occasions and believe it can help with flexibility and recovery.

Hamstring pull #1

I would caution against any form of yoga that just focuses on passive range of motion, as I believe this can cause issues. I prefer active poses where the body is gaining motion while the muscles are firing. This is more closely related to sport and training.

We have all seen people who have excellent flexibility when they are relaxed and stretching out. But put them under a bar, and they cannot squat anywhere near parallel and at best their movements look painful and awkward.

I have always looked at lifting weights as both strengthening and stretching my muscles. The strength gained during active range of motion is vital to flexibility when it matters most.

Second, I am not convinced that is your lack of flexibility is the only player in your hamstring pull.

Here is what I know about hamstrings.

1. Tight hamstrings are weak hamstrings. And tight, weak hamstrings can pull the pelvis into posterior pelvic tilt. The upper connection of the hamstrings becomes weaker as that connection becomes tighter, preventing its proper function in keeping the pelvis properly aligned. Knowing this, you need to start stretching your hamstrings. Google hamstring stretches and in .0001 seconds 6 billion results will be staring you in the face. I am 100% positive Kelly Starrett has addressed this issue many times on the flash mob known as Mobility WOD.

In the not so distant past, I was having an issue with my squat. As I started to descend I would get a mild shake in my legs, almost like I could not control the weight. After a few inches it would go away, I would hit the hole and stand up no problem only to have the shake two inches from lockout. The next day I happened to be return a phone call from Louie Simmons and I asked him about the shake. His answer was brief and to the point.

Weak low back.

He told me the only lifters he has seen with a shake or wobble in the legs at the beginning and ending of the squat had a weakness in the low back.He then went on to say a weak back leads to hamstring issues. Strengthen the low back and hamstring pulls are a non-factor. He had seen dozens of football players over the years with hamstring pull after hamstring pull. Every one of them had a weak low back and flat erectors.

I took Louie’s advice, I hit the reverse hyper machines 4 days a week, start pulling from different pin heights in the rack and added good mornings. In a few weeks the shake was gone and my squat blew through the roof. You could say my low back was holding me back. I would venture to say the girl in the picture below has never had any hamstring issues….WOW.

hamstring pull#2

2. A weak low back is a major player in hamstring pulls. Strengthen the back and the hamstrings will follow. We can take it a step further and understand that most people with a weak low back have instability or a glaring weakness in their abdominal strength.

If you examine Louie’s comment it makes sense. Almost all of the Westside squat training is done off a box. The lifter sits back with a vertical to negative shin angle and does an explosive hamstring curl to propel him off the box. After the box squat they head over and hammer their low back and hamstrings with the reverse hyper machine. Next they use a hamstring curl machine and the back attack. You could say the WSB training is all about the posterior chain, and if anyone knows the benefit of the strong backside it is Louie. In addition to focusing on the low back, Louie trains the hell out of the abdominal muscles. It is almost impossible to squat or deadlift a 1000 lbs with a weak trunk. Take a look at the video below of Konstantinov deadlifting.

YouTube Preview Image

3. Muscles pull or tear due to imbalances. The body is all about the weakest link. Put the body under stress, and you will find your weaknesses very quickly. It will be the one thing preventing you from completing your task. For example, tight hips, strong quads and weak hamstrings are a recipe for hamstring problems, as the hamstring becomes the weakest link. The balance between the hamstring and quad is vital, as too strong a quad can literally rip a hamstring to shreds. I have read there is some magic ratio of 3:4 for hamstring to quad strength, but I have no reference for this. We don’t do very many single jointed movements in my program, so I am not sure how it would test it. But I would keep it in mind when examining my training volume and exercise selection.

My hamstring remedy prescription is as follows:

- Wait for your hamstring to heal before you start stretching. Everybody makes the mistake of wanting to stretch all of sudden after a hamstring pull. Wait for it to heal before you start stressing it.

- Once it heals, stretch your hamstrings 2-3 times a day. 15 minutes a day is doable for even the busiest person.

- Strengthen your back and hamstrings with a steady diet of squats below parallel, full GHR, good mornings, reverse hypers, RDLs and pin pulls from various heights. By the time someone mistakes your erectors for steel cables, hamstring pulls will be a distant memory.

- Train the abdominal muscles daily. Anyone that has been to a CFFB seminar knows their warm up should include dead bugs and pillars.

- Learn to sit back in your squat and fight for a more vertical shin angle. This will put a larger load on your hamstrings and work to strength them. Never shove your knees way forward in front of your toes. That puts all the force on the quads and does little for the hamstrings and glutes.

On a personal note, I have never had any hamstring pulls or tears, but then again, I always had a strong back. I have torn my groin, hip flexor and my left calf as those must have been my weak links. They healed up and I was able to keep playing, but it takes time to return to 100%. While the calf healed, I am missing a large divot where my  gastrocnemius used to attach, not very pretty. I have never had issue with it other than the pudgy guy at our seminar in Europe that asked my why my calf was so small.

John

John Welbourn is the creator/operator of CrossFit Football and Power Athlete. He is a 10 year NFL veteran. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft. He went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John also is owner of CrossFit Balboa, an S&C gym in Orange County, CA. CrossFit Balboa is one of a handful of Westside Barbell certified gyms in the world. In addition to training MLB, NFL and other professional and Olympic athletes, John travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie.

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Posted in Talk to Me Johnnie, Training | Tagged , , , | 44 Comments

44 Responses to Hamstring Pull

  1. I had a hamstring pull 10 months ago, and occasionally experience low back fatigue if I squat and play the same day.

    Needless to say I’ll be adding Good Mornings to my routine. Thanks for the great post John!

  2. Mike K.

    Great info as usual John. What if you have the opposite problem (pulled hip flexor while sprinting)? Would that indicate weak abs, improper warmup, or something else?

  3. Eli

    What are dead bugs and pillars?
    thanks

  4. Remember muscles pull/tear do to imbalances. When I tore my hip flexor my knee was shot. I was leaning at the waste to compensate for the lack of strength in my knee and quad and tore my hip flexor. What are you compensating for? Poor flexibility? A muscle imbalance?

    I guess you have never been to a CrossFit Football Seminar. Did you think we would give the farm away on CFFB Dot Com? The seminar has all the missing pieces. What you see on the site is just the basics.

  5. Diego

    Great info, Johnnie.

    Dealing with hip flexor issues now that seem to keep resurfacing. Any advice on rehabbing or making them stronger?

  6. Josh

    John,

    Thanks for responding to my email. I’ll take all this advice to heart and definitely be adding the reverse hypers and good mornings to my routine. If I had to pick one of these issues, I would venture to say that I have a muscle imbalance. My strength numbers are decent, as I deadlift 475lbs, squat 390lbs, becnh 305lbs, and clean 275lbs. I always squat below parallel, so although I think I can work on flexibility, I do not think I am terribly inflexible for a 200+ lb guy. I think my lower back can definitely use some strengthening, but I am almost certain my hamstrings would be my weakest link.

    Each of my pulls has occured while going from a decent run (coverage in flag football) to accelerating to a full out 110% sprint to break on the ball to pick it off. Not sure if that makes any difference in what area would be my weakness, but as I said earlier, it is probably a combination of flexibility issues and compensating for weak hamstrings. Either way, I will be using your advice and applying it as soon as I can get back to moving without pain. Thanks again.

    And just as an added note, I will be attending your football cert in Baltimore in June (should be back to full strenght by then).

  7. Gustorama

    Wait, asking about yoga makes you sound gay? How about using gay as a pejorative makes you sound like a jerk?

    I love CFFB, but my CF coach came back from your seminar and I sorta wish he never learned about dead bugs,….

  8. jon schmalensee

    i was squatting 240×5 ( which is heavy for me). at the bottom, which for me is slightly below parallel, something popped. it felt like my hip on the inside, near my groin, and also my knee. i finished the set and did two more sets.

    after that, i couldnt move it. like anything that moved my femur inside my hip, hurt like hell. its been 5 days, and now its close to normal, except anytime i twist my femur to the outside with a straight leg, it hurts and locks up. i do have the shakes you are talking about. any ideas?

  9. Z

    Ugh. I tore my left gastroc end of January on the 5th of 6 heavy prowler pushes. I can squat, deadlift, press, etc., but anything explosive is still out of reach. How long did your calf take to heal, John? (And will we see you at the CFFB seminar next weekend up in LA?)

  10. Michael

    John, Great timing! I’ll be getting on this tomorrow.

    I’m very interested in getting past the basics, any plans for the NY/NJ area again? Missed you guys last year.

    Thanks for everything!

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  12. Great post John. Whenever things start to stall, it’s a good idea to do some inventory on the body and add assistance work as needed. The CFFB Cert is a great way to learn some methods and movements.

    Josh, it’s 2012, grow up and stop using the word gay to describe things. I would also suggest finding a Chiro that uses Graston Technique and getting some work done on your troubled spots. It really helped me when I tweaked my hip flexor. Graston on the hammys is torture, but it will give you much better tissue quality.

  13. So would there be anything wrong with throwing a day of box squats in here and there for extra posterior work?

  14. Al

    John,

    Don’t you mean that tight hamstrings pull the pelvis into a posterior tilt?

    -Al

  15. Daz

    Great post John, a tonne of information in there.

  16. Nathan Greaves

    I cant quite believe what a difference the dynamic WU stuff has actually helped me. Since the cert I’ve warmed up everyday with the most horrible ones (deadbugs included!).
    Hammering my trunk (not my core) daily before workouts has helped my 1RM deadlift become a 5RM since the beginning of February.
    Best money I ever spent. I’ll be sure to attend the next one in Europe.

  17. Jose

    Thanks for the info John. As a guy who works at home with only a barbell, jerk/ squat blocks, and a dumbell what low back exercises do you suggest? I have started doing rdls after doing the 70′s big seminar and it has been crushing my legs, but i think I need more. Any help would be appreciated.

  18. chris

    It should be noted that there are Two completely different types of hamstring “pulls”. I have experience with both.

    One is higher up the leg, purely in the muscle belly. The bill starr pulled muscle rehab actually works wonders on this. This only works if it’s a muscle BELLY injury. Same can apply to adductor (groin) injuries if they are in the muscle only. Google it and use the protocol.

    The other is strains and pulls to the tight hamstring tendons a little bit lower towards the knee. For me these have typically been sort of on the outside of the leg. This isn’t a muscle belly. You have to let it rest. John’s article definitely applies here. Lots of stretching, lots of back strengthening, and lots of SPRINTING has helped me prevent future injuries. I’ve also done a tendon only pull on my groin (no muscle damage). Same deal.

    I play rugby and one thing I’ve noticed is that even though most club teams will only practice 2 days (and 1 game day), this definitely isn’t enough to keep your muscles ready to play, especially if you’re a faster/more explosive athlete. Even if you lift 2 days as well. A very short warm up run with a few sprints and a full stretch, even on off-days, will help immensely in keeping everything ready.

  19. Mark K

    Great article John, and might I add you post the best pictures…

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  21. Jade

    Wait… this site is still free???

    Thanks bro!

  22. Darin

    Great article. Thanks John.

    So how much secret sauce is there at the cert?

    I was thinking about coming to your New Zealand cert but it’s a lot of money and the course outline seemed like it was focussed on coaching others. Now I’m reconsidering.

    I’ve been following the site for around 6 months and everything is going great. I train on my own, don’t have any plans to coach others, and am more than happy to keep eating the programming that you serve up on the site.

    Would there be that much extra content for someone in my position?

  23. Dennis

    Work on strengthening your hip flexors to balance your hips. Most hamstring pulls are due to them being used while already stretched past a normal resting ROM due to anterior and inferior tilt of the pelvis. Your ASIS will be drastically lower than your PSIS. This also causes a shortening of the muscles in the lumbar region and leading to a weakness there as well. By strengthening your hip flexors, your pelvis will rotate back to a normal, slight posterior tilt, take the strain off of your hamstrings, return your lumbar mm’ to normal resting length, and your hips will be strong through a complete range of motion. TR Goodman at Pro Camp Fitness has a useful video series addressing these issues as well.

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  36. Stacey Grove

    First and foremost, thank you to big John and all the others who take time out of their days to enrich an already brimming FREE resource like TTMJ and CFF. I am hoping to get a few answers to minor, nagging questions. The first being how to cram in additional “accessory” work into the CFF training schedule. I follow it to the letter, and I end up spending between 1-1.5 hours total in the gym. Do I just suck it up and extend the length? Or do you guys do a second, more skill specific routine later in the day? My second question pertains to the actual warmup, and may be requiring me to attend a CFF cert or OS. My athletic background is wrestling, all through grade school and collee, and I have not spent the time lifting as most football players have. What do you typically do to warm up before the SWOD? Thank you to any and all who respond.

    • Why do you need additional accessory work? Most people’s main accessory work is done with a barbell. We call it core lifts. Accessory work was created for powerlifters who couldn’t get the volume they needed from the core lifts. Olympic lifters do not do accessory because they do enough volume in the core lifts. But in case you thought you were missing out, that thing we do called the DWOD…it is just a big superset of supplemental lifts.

      How about squatting heavy, pressing heavy and doing a ton of pull ups and sit ups? If by accessory work you are referring to training arms, we have a serious disconnect if you need someone to program curls.

      I saw a comment the other day, crying, “Why do we train arms?”

      Most people miss the forest for the tress in front of them.

      But if I have to program curls/hammer curls or tricep extensions then you guys should be over with the spoon feed crowd on t-nation.

      And dont worry about the program cycles. The amateur is a repeat each week. The pro and amateur tests singles at least one-two times every 3 weeks. The CFFB Total is really not the end of beginning of a cycle, even though, it appears that way.

      Just follow the program. No need to lay awake worrying about such things.

  37. Stacey Grove

    Thank you for the response. I was mainly referring to the hamstring work referenced in this article. It seems to be a good example of additional work performed to address weaknesses or to avoid injury. Something like k-Stars MOB would be another example, as maintaining flexibility is greatly important. When would you recommend I perform something like that, or the hammy stuff mentioned above? After SWOD but before dwod? I am not wanting to recreate the program, as many others. I am simply wanting to add items recommended by the programs creators in a coherent way. Thank you, John.

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  39. valerie

    Hello

    I pulled my hamstring grade 3 few days ago doing a sumo deadlift pr. I have always had a strong lower body. PT told me that i would be not doing lower body for at least 2 months. Is there modified movements apart from upper body and abs that i can do? I figure hspu,pushups,light bike and row, chinups, pullups would be good to start with after my injury.

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