Many athletes and clients struggle with hamstring muscle activation. A normal quad to hamstring ratio would be 3:2, but studies often find that subjects tend to be closer to 2:1 (especially females). This diminished ratio can increase knee injury risk (non-contact ACL) with jumping and cutting sports. Some people struggle with proximal hamstring tendinopathy related to overuse. Incorporating eccentric hamstring exercises in your training can markedly improve hamstring strength and activation patterns.
Execution: Start in a supine position with 90-degrees of knee flexion and both feet flat on the floor. Then set the abs, squeeze the glutes and bridge up until there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Next raise your toes so that your weight is on your heels and then slowly begin to walk the feet out one foot at a time in an alternating pattern keeping the weight on the heels. Move the feet as far away from the body as possible while maintaining a good static bridge position.
Once your form starts to falter or fatigue sets in, walk the feet back in one foot at a time using the same cadence and incremental steps until you return to the starting position. Perform 5 rep (out and in is one rep), rest and repeat 2-3 times. Focus on control while avoiding pelvic rotation, and be cautious working into too much knee extension to avoid poor form or cramping.
This is an excellent way to improve hamstring strength while emphasizing pelvic stability. This exercise should be preceded by static bridging to ensure the athlete understands how to maintain a neutral pelvic position. The walk out exercise can be implemented as part of ACL prevention / rehab programs and those struggling with hip / pelvic stability, proximal tendinopathy and general posterior chain weakness.
Regression: Beginners and those who have trouble performing this exercise properly should start by bridging up and marching in place for repetitions or time to develop sufficient strength and stability.
Progression: To make the exercise more difficult, you can increase the number of reps or increase time under tension by slowing the cadence down and pausing longer at each step. You can also move the hands from palm down to palm up to reduce stability. Advanced athletes should cross the arms with the hands resting on the opposite shoulder.
Brian Schiff, PT, OCS, CSCS, is a licensed physical therapist, respected author and fitness professional. Currently, he serves as the supervisor for EXOS API at Raleigh Orthopedic. For more information, visit www.BrianSchiff.com