One my of favorite things about the Pilates reformer, is that it constantly requires the body to do a variety of unique, eccentric engagements. In this post, I’ll be demonstrating 3 easy, eccentric hamstring exercises that you can do on the reformer to soak up all of the benefits!
What are some of these amazing benefits of eccentric hamstring strength, you ask?
- Prevention of ACL tears.
- Reduced hamstring tendon injuries.
- Increased flexibility.
- Stronger connective tissue.
- Bigger strength gains with less energy output.
Eccentric strengthening is when you apply resistance to a muscle while it is lengthening. Simply put, you can think of the eccentric phase as “putting on the brakes.”
When you’re driving in your car and you need to stop at the bottom of a steep hill, you’d like some good breaks, right? Same with your muscles. When you need to call upon your eccentric strength, in a quick second, to put on the breaks, it’s best if you’re strong. If not, injuries occur.
When Eccentric Strengthening Occurs
There are 3 major types of muscular engagements that happen when we are exercising: concentric, eccentric & isometric. As a quick overview you can relate these three engagements to a simple biceps curl (Popeye’s move).
- Concentric is when the dumbbell is coming towards you, in the upward phase, and the elbow is bending.
- Eccentric is when the dumbbell is moving away from you, in the downward phase, and the elbow is extending to a straight arm again.
- Isometric would be similar to holding the dumbbell still while the elbow is at a bend and no movement is happening. (Being sure to breathe the entire time in order to level out your intra-abdominal pressure during ANY isometric exercise!)
Here’s the Science
While we can physically see the movement in the elbow, there is a lot going on at the microscopic level of the muscle fibers. The very smallest section of muscle fibers is what we call a sarcomere.
The sarcomere is a tiny section of muscle where we have some important strands of “worker bees:” myosin & actin. The myosin & actin electrically connect to one another, pulling along to create a sliding motion until the strands have moved over each other. The connection is called cross bridging and the sliding is called the “sliding filament theory.”
When each sarcomere is concentrically contracting, the myosin & actin are sliding over each other so that each edge of the sarcomere ends up closer together (shortened). When the sarcomere is done concentrically contracting, it needs to lengthen back out again. When the sarcomere is lengthening back out and resistance is applied here, eccentric work is happening.
I chose to show you how to eccentrically strengthen the hamstrings because they are such big muscles in the body and can prevent some serious injuries if they are eccentrically strong.
Quite often in our workouts, the quadriceps, the muscle group on the front of the thighs, get a lot more of the strength development than the hamstrings. However, it’s important to keep it even 😉
Here’s an image to help you visually see all that is entailed when we simply say, “hamstrings.”
Hamstrings = 3 per Leg
The hamstrings are located on the back of the thigh. The picture above is depicting a back & side view of the right hamstring.
When we say “hamstrings” we are actually referring to a grouping of 3 separate muscles on the back of one thigh: the semimenbranosus, semitendinosus & biceps femoris. All three muscles help to flex the knee (bend the knee); however, they each provide a little something extra:
- Semimembranosus: Helps with hip extension, knee flexion and internal rotation of the knee joint and even helps with stabilization of the pelvis. As you can see in the picture, it inserts into the medial side of the knee.
- Semitendinosus: Does almost identical movements as the semimembranosus mentioned above: hip extension, knee flexion and internal rotation of the knee joint and even helps with stabilization of the pelvis. The insertion and origins on the boney structures differ slightly for the semimembranosus & semitendinosus, but they are relatively close.
- Biceps Femoris: Having two heads, this muscle can almost be considered 2 in 1. There is the long head and the short head of the biceps femoris. The long and short head of this muscle originate in different areas, with the long head inserting up at the ischial tuberosity near the 2 “semis” mentioned above and the short head originating way lower on the back of the femur. The side view above is a great place to see the short head of the biceps femoris. Unlike the two big hamstring muscles, the biceps femoris aids in lateral rotation of the knee along with flexing the knee. You can see from the back image that the muscle inserts to the lateral side of the knee.
3 Eccentric Hamstring Engagements on the Pilates Reformer
Now that you have a deeper understanding on both eccentric engagement and the anatomy of the hamstrings, you can try out the 3 easy reformer exercises in the video below!
To perform the exercises correctly be sure you’re applying all of the foundations.
Notice the medial and lateral rotations in the video really help with isolating the different “strips” of hamstring muscle with their specific actions. You’ll also get that feeling of “putting on the breaks” while you are performing these exercises.
Enjoy & comment below to let me know what you think of the exercises and the info on this post! If you haven’t signed up for my free foundations course, you can click here to get the first lesson in your inbox today!