Why Do We Do It If We Know Better?


Why is everyone so infatuated with the ham/glute raise and the Russian/Nordic hamstring curls? These are both exercises that I threw out of my toolbox years ago, because I found that they were ineffective and predisposed the athletes to injury. I am not sure what people trying to accomplish with them? They are both training muscles. I prefer to train movements that stress muscles in an appropriate manner for the desired training objective. No doubt the hamstring muscle group are very important in movement, but they do not work in isolation, nor do they act in slow eccentric moments and they work both at the knee and the hip. I hear another buzzword as justification, they work the posterior chain- so what? How about the total kinetic chain and fitting the hamstring in that context? The hamstrings must be integrated and coordinated to be effective in doing their job.

To help understand exercise selection lets look at the three movement constants. Start with the body, which is what we are trying to change and get to adapt through training. The second constant is gravity, an ever-present force that constantly loads the system. Last but not least, the ground where we live work and play. Without applying force to the ground we cannot move. Lets look deeper into the body and look at hamstring function and its architecture that helps to determine its function. In running linear and multi directionally, the hamstrings main job is to decelerate the foreleg and in stance extend the hip, in addition along with gravity it also helps to flex the knee (not it’s primary job). Based on its architecture (the pennation angles within the muscle) it is designed for speed and large amplitude movements. They work in all three planes of motion, not just the sagittal plane. The hamstrings work synergistically with all the muscle of the hip and the leg to produce the required efficient movement. They are like any good team player; they can’t do their job without help.

Now lets look at the specific exercises. The ham/glute raise isolates the hamstrings through a limited range of motion. It works in a horizontal orientation against gravity. No use of the ground and slow speed of movement. The Russian/Nordic hamstring curl basically isolates the hamstring at one joint, the knee through a very limited range of motion. Very slow, almost grinding eccentric movement that places tremendous abnormal stress on the distal hamstring. No use of the ground. Based on basic exercise selection criteria both these exercises fail on all counts.

What should you do? It is very simple, no fancy names, minimal equipment needs, just manipulation of the three movement constants. Lunges and lunge and reach in all three planes of motion with appropriate resistance. Step-ups with both a low and a high box, simple, no frills, integration into he total chain. These exercises train force reduction, force production and have high proprioceptive demand. They involve triple extension and triple flexion at a relatively high speed. Simple, get all the parts working together to produce efficient flowing movement that will transfer into the competitive arena.

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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Vern Gambetta

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