By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
Many coaches are forced to adjust their respective preseason schedules due to an influx of injuries to players’ hamstrings. Sudden sprinting, cutting or stopping is often the cause of these injuries.
Nationally recognized podiatrist Dr. Stephen Pribut, DPM, offers tips to preventing hamstring injuries.
1. Specialize conditioning drills. All football players are not created equal. As such, linemen should not be doing the same conditioning exercises as receivers or running backs. “Receivers and defensive backs have sudden acceleration,” Pribut said. “People of different body types should be on different training schedules.”
Coaches should have players condition in a manner that is consistent with their game activity. If a receiver might run a 40-yard pattern, jog back to the huddle, and stand still for 30 seconds between plays, design conditioning drills that demand similar bursts of speed.
2. Encourage athletes to participate in winter track.Many athletes who suffer hamstring injuries are unaccustomed to sprinting or competing with other athletes during the offseason. Winter track forces football players to prepare for the muscle contractions that take place while running.
“Hamstring injuries happen in two phases of the gait – when the leg is fully forward or when it is fully contracted in the swing phase. Early in practice or early in the season is when injuries happen. A football player that does winter track learns to work out and warm up like a sprinter.”
3. Give players time to warm up. Pribut subscribes to the theory that the shorter the distance an athlete is running, the longer the warmup required. Football players often sprint in 20- or 30-yard distances, so they are expected to hit full speed in a short amount of time.
“A football player might spend 40 minutes before practice making sure he’s ready,” Pribut said. “Consider running easy with other players and then completing some drills like high hurdles or 60-meter sprints.”
The maintenance of preparing for practice can save players from the maintenance of rehabilitation.
4. Have a stretching period. Many teams stretch together before games, but Pribut believes this should spill over to practice as well. Pribut recommends competitive athletes stretch four times a day. If they don’t have the time for that, once is better than not at all.
“Stretching and eccentric exercises help quite a bit,” Pribut said. “Eccentric stretching such as warmup strides or light running is good for any position player. Receivers will definitely be sprinting so high knees or butt-kicks will complement those easy runs before trainings starts.”
5. Don’t ignore the hamstrings in strength training. A football player’s strength is often measured by the amount he can bench press, but Pribut believes other key exercises can help prevent hamstring injuries. While squats and dead lifts will help a player strengthen the hamstrings, resistance exercises also help to build strength and increase flexibility.
“The hamstrings come into play in squats and dead lifts as well as resistance exercises,” Pribut said. “Hamstring machines are also good. It’s important to add some variety to hamstring strengthening exercises because a football player isn’t going to move in the same motion all of the time.”
6. Allow players to ease into the practice. A good football coach is able to communicate a desired decrease in effort level to players without seeing a dramatic drop in intensity. For instance, players may only go at 75 percent speed at a walk-through. The start of practice should not call for athletes to operate at 100 percent.
“It’s important for players to learn to hold something back in practice,” Pribut said. “They’ll want to perform well to impress their coaches so they can play in games, but if they get hurt in practice, they can’t play as well as they should.”
7. Focus on running technique. A receiver might change his stride subconsciously when a ball is in the air in order to make an adjustment to the ball’s trajectory. Sometimes, this may result in an injury due to overstriding.
“Technique is so important,” Pribut said. “It’s hard to think of how you’re running when you go out for a pass, but a shorter stride might put the hamstring at lower risk. For those positions where guys are taller and thinner, emphasize that they should be taking shorter strides so as not to put added stress on their hamstrings.”
8. Cut back on icing. Pribut admits he may be in the minority in his belief that ice is overused for hamstring injuries. He feels ice may help in the days immediately following a hamstring strain, but after that, it only slows the neural impulse and decreases blood flow to the area.“It slows the healing time,” Pribut said. “I’m not a big fan of chronic ice use. Stretching is a big part of getting better. The emphasis should be on not stretching too hard for the first two weeks. No stretching might even be better as the hamstring heals.”
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Dan Guttenplan is FNF Coaches senior managing editor. Do you have a thought about this article you would like to share? Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet us @fnfcoaches or share it on the Coaches Chat Board.