In the process of working with my son who sustained a grade 2 hamstring strain/tear this week I’ve been thinking about hamstring training and rehabilitation. I’m always trying to figure out the mechanics of an injury – no matter what the sport. If you know how or why an injury occurred then you can bring specificity to your rehab efforts. Specificity is an important principle in strength training. It means your conditioning exercises should be as similar as possible to the pattern of the movement you are training for. Don’t worry – I’m going to bring this back to dance in a moment.
He injured his hamstring during a heel hook move while bouldering. Think of doing a grand battement and then pulling yourself up by pushing down on your heel as you reach one arm upward to continue the climb.
Definitely needs both strength and flexibility – similar to what a penché requires. Dancers focus more on training flexible hamstrings to get those high extensions and splits but often are lacking in strength, especially when the hamstring is lengthening or doing an eccentric contraction, which is what the standing leg of a penché is doing.
Let’s first test the general strength of the hamstrings. Start in a bridge position and lift your pelvis up off the floor. The hamstrings are shortening or concentrically contracting when you do this. The same is true if you place your legs on a physioball and lift your hips up to form a straight line with your body. Still a shortening contraction. Both exercises will help the hamstring become stronger, especially if you do them one-legged, but aren’t specific enough to the requirements of a penché.
For eccentrically training the hamstrings you could begin by lying on your stomach, one knee bent with a 1-5 pound ankle weight on. Then slowly… slowly… straighten your leg. You are beginning to train the hamstring to control that lengthening contraction.
A fun way to train lengthening contractions of the hamstrings is to stand on one leg in front of a chair and slowly lower yourself to sitting. It’s harder than it sounds. Most of us will plop down at a certain point rather than controlling the descent. The lower the chair… the harder it is.
The next variation could be placing one leg on a chair (or physioball) and slowly reaching towards the floor with the opposite arm. Don’t expect to actually touch the floor at first. Only reach as far as you can smoothly maintain your balance. The other leg will not reach up into an arabesque but stay on the chair. This is also surprisingly hard to do well!
The final variation is to actually do the penché by lifting the back leg into arabesque (which is a concentric contraction for that hamstring), and then slowly flexing at the hip into the penché, maintaining good upper back and arabesque alignment.
These exercises will certainly help train your penchés, but also are really good for making sure your hamstrings are both flexible and strong!
To your success,