Ideal and Satisfactory Hamstring/Quadricep Strength Ratios

I’ve just recently torn my hamstring again (mild type II tear, no bruising, but mild discomfort when walking 6 days after injury) for the second time in six months. This should set me back another 3 weeks in my training. Now I am having to acknowledge that this is likely to be a recurring injury specific to my organism, and not just a one off as I thought the first injury was. I assumed it was due to doing speed endurance work in my own time on grass that wasn’t as flat as I would have preferred. My latest injury that happened 1 week ago, occurred on the track sprinting with the rest of the group. Obviously the surface is not the issue here, which is why i am investigating possible causes. One that frequently comes up in discussions on hamstring injuries, is a strength imbalance between the hamstring muscle group and the quadriceps.

Just what is the ideal strength ratio between the two muscle groups and what is a satisfactory level for sprinters who wish to avoid injury whilst maximising performance?

I’ve heard some, such as Dintiman/Tellez, say that ideally they should be equal in strength, though they have yet to come across an athlete who meets this ideal. To me this seems like sports science ignoring common sense and logic. Surely if 99.9% of all athletes and humans in general, have quads that are considerably stronger than their hams, then the hams were never designed to be equally as strong in the first place. Nature does not act without aim or purpose. By my way of thinking, God has given us weaker hamstrings for a reason. If 50% of humans had an equal strength balance then I wouldn’t disagree with the point. To make the hamstrings equal in strength to the quads is an extremely unrealistic target for all of us. You would have to hold back the strength development of the quads whilst giving unbelievable amounts of attention to the hamstrings. I’m sure if you did achieve this ‘strength utopia’, logic tells me that you would probably develop a problem with the quads as they wouldn’t be used to coexisting with an equally strong hamstring.

In real world terms, what kind of ratio should we shooting for as a realistic ideal, and what would be a satisfactory level? :slight_smile:

CFTS gives a good explanation of hamstring strength.

Sports Speed by Dintiman/Ward/Tellez address the Hamstring/Quad ratio differential based on leg curl/leg ext. The leg curls treat the hamstring as a knee flexor. When the hamstring major role in sprinting is as a hip extensor.

Having said that it is more likely your hamstring problems stem from:

  1. Imbalance of strength between the right and left hamstring
  2. Flawed sprinting technique
  3. Flexibility issues

It is important to find the correct cause(s) to prevent future injuries

I have read several theories about hamstring/quad ratio’s. I’m not convinced you need to be too concerned about the mathematical measurements of your strength. A well balanced weight and training routine should cover it nicely.

I would like to also emphasise the difference between hip extension and knee flexion. I don’t think resisted knee flexion has much of a role in sprinting. Hamstring curls and leg extensions are probably more useful as a means to stabilise the knee, rather than forward propulsion.

Does anyone have any pointers for hip posture while sprinting? How much forward/backward tilt should there be? None? Or is it all pretty individualised?
I think posture and coordination have more to do with hamstring injuries than ham/quad ratio.

What exactly do you mean by hamstring strength? Hamstring strength during knee flexion or hamstring strength during hip extension?

With regards to knee flexion, if one postulates that the knee flexors must be as strong as the knee extensors, then the athlete should be able to leg-curl roughly the same weight as he/she can manage in the knee-extension exercise. This seems a little excessive to me, but not particularly outrageous, and fairly do-able. The full relevance of this to sprinting escapes me, however, as the maximal load on the hamstrings during sprinting occurs during hip extension, not knee flexion.

With regards to hip extension, it’s difficult (I.M.O) to speak of “strength ratios” between the hamstrings and the quadriceps, as the quadriceps do not act as direct antagonists to the hamstrings, and in addition other muscles are heavily involved (gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, lower back muscles). I would think that sprinters would desire to have hamstrings (and glutes etc.) that are as strong as possible in the hip extension movement (specifically, isometric strength close to maximal extension.) But I don’t see how you can construct a meaningful quad/ham strength ration from this.

Partially related to your question

an article by none other than Mr. Charlie Francis
Its the 4th response down if you want the full context

A: I don’t like the sound of your ham/quad ratio test. It sounds like you’ve been assessed and rehabbed on a Cybex or Orthatron machine. In all my years of experience, I’ve never run across a happy result with this kind of equipment.

First of all, the basic premise that you can assess ham/quad ratios, as they apply to sprinting in this way, is bullshit. Since the rate of movement around the knee during ground contact (when real force is needed) approaches zero, then the unloaded rate of movement can approach 1500 degrees per second! Let’s see a machine test that!

Secondly, most hamstring injuries are caused by overwork, not an imbalance. What happens is that as you fatigue, the hip height during sprinting drops, causing more deflection at the knee than there should be. Therapy with these machines is, unfortunately, the rule and not the exception these days. The fluid resistance these machines rely on comes on all at once. It’s like cracking the whip with the hamstring.

The muscle will go into more spasm, shortening it’s length and sending the problem up into the Ischeal Tuberosity. Of course, your therapist will explain this away as sciatica (a narrowing of the lumbar or cervical spinal canal, which causes compression on nerve roots). Only manual therapy such as cross-friction or Active Release Technique will solve the problem.

I was once called in by an NFL team to assess the injury to their star receiver. It turned out that he’d been on the Orthatron for a year and the harder he worked, the worse the hamstring got. Finally, he missed a full season! Once proper therapy was instituted, he came back for a dream season. I should also point out that hamstring injuries in football players cannot always be avoided because they often occur during intense deceleration, something sprinters shouldn’t have to worry about.

If there is anyone out there who can give me a proper measure of the quad hamstring (Q/H) ratio? I seriously doubt it.

  1. isometrically: the Q/H ratio is depenent in whicgh angle you measure…
  2. isokinetically: the Q/H ratio is dependent on the velocity in which you move and considering the high knee angular velocity in sprints I doubt that what happens between Q and H at 30 or 300 degrees per second is going to predict wat is happening at 1000 degrees per second

Also I question if the strengh ratio between Q and H has anything directly to do with hamsting injuries:
-what about flexibility (same story as far as I am concerned)
-coordination of alternating contractions at high speed 4.5 times per second

Serious prevention:
An interesting article appeared in Scand.J of Sports Med.Vo.13, 203. pg.244-250.
Askling, C; Karlsson, J; Thorstensson, A: Hamstring injury occurrence in elite soccer players after preseason strength training with eccentric overload.
I have been working with the Yo-Yo system that has been used in this reserach as well. The Yo-Yo is an inventing of friend of mine, Per Tesch, which gives a wonderful eccentric overload for the hamstring muscle and in the article was used as an addition to the normal (weight-)training, 1-2 times a week, 4 sets of 8 reps with 1 min. rest and lead to a greatly decreased
incidence in the group who used it as compared to another group who did the same training without the Yo-Yo. (3 injuries versus 10 injuries)