Looking for a powerful approach to hamstrings training? Oddly enough, you might just find inspiration in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
, a best-selling memoir by Amy Chua, a Chinese-American mother. Her book has raised considerable controversy concerning her childrearing practices, which include culturally ingrained traditions of strict discipline and high expectations. According to Chua, Chinese mothers “assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.” This is exactly the approach you should use when training the hamstrings.
Think about it. When it comes to training the hamstrings, many trainees simply tack on a few leg curls at the end of their workouts. Maybe they will finish off with a few lazy sets of about 12-15 reps, which doesn’t make sense because the hamstrings are primarily composed of fast-twitch fibers that respond best to lower reps and heavy weights. My guess is they treat the hamstrings this way because they are concerned they might pull them – they probably have a mental picture of a powerful sprinter collapsing in the middle of a race, grasping his upper leg and writhing in pain. And they know that once pulled, hamstrings take forever to heal and even then are never quite the same. Better to stay conservative, as the hamstrings are a fragile muscle and should be coaxed into making gains – they will eventually grow.
On the other hand, there are those “functional personal trainers” who focus a lot on hamstring exercises. But their exercise choices are often lame, more like Cirque du Soleil choreography – complete with balance boards and big rubber balls – than hardcore muscle building. And with such exercises, despite the loading parameters used, the weights will be relatively light and consequently the muscle building effect minimal.
Neither of those methods will get you what you want. Let me share with you a workout that will make hamstrings grow, and grow fast.
Not All Leg Curls Are Created Equal
I am frequently asked, “Which is the best hamstrings curl machine?” And my answer is “All of them!” – which is why the Poliquin Strength Institute in East Greenwich has seven different
leg curl machines from three manufacturers, not seven of the same type of machine. I also have several adjustable cable machine stations that allow for additional leg curl variations. Although this assortment of machines may not be as esthetically pleasing as having just one type of machine, I believe such variety is essential for maximal results. Let me explain – starting with strength curves.
A strength curve is a mathematical model that determines how much force can be produced at specific joint angles. One of the most respected sports scientists from Russia, Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, addressed the importance of strength curves in his book Science and Practice of Strength Training
. “The magnitude of weight that an athlete can lift in a given motion is limited by the strength attainable at the weakest point of the full range of joint motion.” Using more popular terminology, the amount of weight you can lift in a specific exercise is determined by how much weight you can lift through the .
For a leg curl machine to match the strength curve of the hamstrings, the machines must be designed so that the resistance decreases as the joint is flexed. Many exercise machines have used shell-shaped pulleys (i.e., cams) to vary the resistance. The first patent for a cam was given in 1901 to Max Herz of Vienna. This cam would increase resistance as the joint flexed; as such, during a leg curl the resistance would increase during the portion of the exercise where the person was weakest. However, equipment manufacturers have experimented with pulleys that would be most appropriate for their machines – some machines are right on the money, and others not so much. But despite the manufacturers’ best efforts, the fact that human anatomy varies from person to person means that some leg curl machines will feel more comfortable to some people than to others. Thus, the more leg curl machines a gym has, the better.
What I’d like to do now is share with you an example of a hamstring workout that approaches this muscle group from a perspective of strength, not weakness. It uses a giant set of six exercises performed for 5 sets that will make you feel about 25 centimeters shorter when you finish due to the dramatic pump this program will give you. Here ya go!
A-1. Life Fitness Lying Leg Curl, Feet Inward, Plantar Flexed, 5 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 10 seconds
A-2. Atlantis Lying Leg Curl, Feet Inward, Plantar Flexed, 5 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 10 seconds
A-3. Hammer Lying Leg Curl, Feet Outward, Plantar Flexed, 5 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 10 seconds
A-4. Hammer Seated Leg Curl, Feet Outward, Plantar Flexed, 5 x 6-8, 40X0, rest 10 seconds
A-5. Atlantis 45 Degree Back Extension, Feet Neutral, 5 x 6-8, 3012 tempo, rest 10 seconds
A-6. Atlantis Back Extension, Feet Outward, 5 x 6-8, 3012, rest 3 minutes
You’ll note that I used several great equipment brands so as to affect different points in the strength curve. If your gym has only one brand of lying leg curl machine, introduce variety by varying your foot orientation.
You will lose about 4-5 percent of your strength during each giant set – and that is to be expected – so adjust the weights downward. If you get to minus 20 percent of what you started with before you get to 5 giant sets, your work capacity and/or nutrition is poor. If you don’t feel nauseated by the end of the 5 sets, you are using loads that probably are more appropriate for an 11-year-old stamp collector.
The hamstrings are often neglected by bodybuilders and other athletes, and this is just wrong. As in any training endeavor, one of your goals should be structural balance, so be sure to give the hamstrings the attention they deserve.