How to return to sport after a hamstring injury

A pulled or strained hamstring is frustrating. In my professional experience I have found that returning to training and games after a hamstring strain can prove troublesome for those that fail to have a gradual or phased approach to rehabilitation training. In this article I will share strength and conditioning exercises that should be used for hamstring training and rehabilitation.

The length of rehabilitation will be dependent upon the grade of injury. There are three grades of injury; 1-3. You can learn more about the healing process and grades of injuries explained here.

I highly recommend that you seek a referral if you are unsure about the severity of injury prior to engaging in a progressive hamstring rehabilitation plan.

Hamstring Rehabilitation

This article will explain hamstring rehabilitation from a strength and conditioning perspective.

There are two main goals of the strength program during the return to play phase. The first is to increase single leg stability and the second is to move a greater and progressive intensity over time.

Put in more simple terms the goal is to

  1. Go from stable to unstable and
  2. Go from slow to fast

So how do you accomplish this?

During the initial stage of recovery you should focus on body weight or two-legged based movements. None of these exercises should feel challenging or cause sharp or sudden pain in the hamstring.

You will probably feel like you “should” do more during this initial phase but resist the urge to push on too quickly. Recurring hamstring issues can develop and can be challenging to recover from.

The duration of this phase will depend upon severity of injury but you could expect to spend anywhere from 3-5 days up to 3-4 weeks performing gradually progressive bodyweight and two-legged hamstring exercises.

Exercise suggestions 

As you progress through some exercises like those mentioned above you should look towards some new variations or exercises to increase stability demands. Single leg exercises will be great options here. Some exercise suggestions include

Moving from slow to fast

Use a controlled tempo for each of the movements above. Put simply, this means to take 3-4 seconds to perform each repetition. As you progress through these exercises you should begin to move quicker (eg 2-3 seconds per rep).

End-stage hamstring rehabilitation

In the final stage of gym based rehabilitation for hamstring injuries you should introduce some explosive lower body movements and plyometric hamstring exercises to your program. This will help prepare you for sprinting, cutting and change of direction demands that are required in your sport for you to be successful. Examples here include;

Return to Team Training & Sprinting

Use the same principle of moving slow to fast in your sport training program as you return from a hamstring injury. The premise here should be to move from a jog to maximum intensity sprints. Again this speed of progression will be dependent upon the grade of hamstring injury.

I like to use build-in sprints with my athletes during this phase. With this format you will have a 10 or 20 metre build-in phase where you go from a standing start and gradually build inn to a sprint whereby each step is faster than the previous.

30-metre build in sprint example 

0-15 metres: start at 50% speed, build to 80-90% intensity within 15 metres

15-30 metres: run at maximum [100%] intensity

To prevent or at least reduce the likelihood of a future hamstring injury you should

  1. Continue to strength train in-season and focus on one to two hamstring resistance exercises during each session
  2. Perform a comprehensive warm-up prior to training and especially prior to sprinting and include some hamstring stretches [dynamic] in your warm up and cool-down [static]
  3. Focus on your sprinting technique and look to remain relaxed while under a state of fatigue

If you would like to take the guesswork out of your training and focus on staying on top of your game consider working with us in-person.