Eccentric Loading – Hamstring Edition!

What is eccentric loading?

An eccentric action is where lengthening of the structure occurs while that same structure is under contraction (Kravitz and Bubbico 2015). So eccentric loading is where the muscle (and associated tendons) are loaded and contracting during a lengthening action, in order to control that motion.

 

Sport and eccentric loading

The importance of eccentric loading is increasingly recognised in a range of athletes, particularly eccentric loading for the hamstrings in sports requiring a lot of deceleration, eg. football, rugby, netball, volleyball, to name a few.

The hamstrings are a two-joint muscle group, so eccentric loading of these occurs when the hip comes into flexion whilst the knee moves into extension, like in a decelerating motion (Schmitt, Tim and McHugh 2012). So any sport (or general activity) that requires this motion will require a level of eccentric strength that meets the demand of the load itself. It is therefore vital for athletes to train this component of strengthening in order to prevent injury. There has been evidence to show those with hamstring strains are weaker in that muscle group when in an eccentric position, ie. a loaded, lengthened position (Schmitt, Tim and McHugh 2012). Furthermore, the hamstrings are a group of muscles that have a particularly high recurrence rate of injury, reaching rates of 22-34% in athletes (Marcus et al, 2011).

To prevent against hamstring injury, and for the rehabilitation of current hamstring injuries, try the following exercises to improve your eccentric loading capabilities (at the advice of your physiotherapist, if rehabilitating):

  • The Windmill
    – standing on one leg, keeping it straight but with soft knees, allow the opposite foot to rest on a chair behind you
    – with a weight in the opposite hand to the straight, weight bearing leg, lower the weight towards the foot while maintaining the straightness in the leg (use of the weight is optional, the movement itself will be encouraging eccentric lengthening)
    – the trunk should be lowering throughout this movement so your weight bearing leg is flexing at the hip
    – you should feel a (pain-free) pull on the weight bearing leg as you lower
    – return to the start position and repeat
  • The Arabesque
    – standing on one leg, keeping the leg straight but with soft knees, allow the other to lift (also kept straight) backwards while both arms reach forwards
    – lower the trunk throughout this movement so your weight bearing leg is flexing at the hip
    – you should feel a (pain-free) pull on the weight bearing leg as you lower
    – return to the start position and repeat
  • The Nordic Hamstring Curl
    – preferably executed with a partner holding your ankles (or a sturdy, safe object hooking over the ankles, keeping them in place)
    – in kneeling with your arms crossed over your chest, allow your body to move forwards and towards the ground
    – you should control the movement by contracting your hamstrings
    – once you are unable to control the downward movement, release your arms and catch yourself in a half press up position before returning to the start position and repeating

 

Kravitz, L. and Bubbico, A. T. (2015). Essentials of Eccentric Training. USA: Human Kinetics.

Elliott, M. C., Zarins, B., Powell, J. W. and Kenyon, C. D. (2011). Hamstring Muscle Strains in Professional Football Players: 10 Year Review. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 39 (4), pp. 843–850.

Schmitt, B., Tim, T. and McHugh, M. (2012). Hamstring Injury Rehabilitation and Prevention of Reinjury Using Lengthened State Eccentric Training: A New Concept. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7 (3), pp. 333-341.

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