Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesday Tip - Quadricep / Hamstring Strength Ratio

At my first gym visit of 2010, I went to the file cabinet and pulled out my progress chart for the first time in months.. The chart lists the exercise machines, the current weight I am lifting and the machine settings. The personal trainer (1 complimentary with gym membership) recommended that I chart my progress. I diligently wrote my routine, weights and reps...for about two months. I ended up spending equal amounts of time charting as I did lifting so I began updating the chart once a month. Eventually...I charted no more.

The main reason for joining a gym was to maintain a strong knee after ACL reconstruction and rehabilitation. I knew that knee strength would be an important part of my routine. My right hamstrings were weakened after surgery because the surgeon used two hamstring tendons to reconstruct my ACL. My right leg was noticeable weaker than my left leg. The trainer suggested I perform hamstring curls with my right leg only. I worked my right leg and exercised using both legs. My right leg slowly increased strength.

Last week, I was using the hamstring curl machine and out of curiosity tested my left hamstring. I was shocked. My left hamstring was considerably weaker than my right hamstring. I am now using the machine to build up my left (non-surgical leg). How did I let this happen? I am certain I would have realized this sooner if I continued to chart my progress.

I was curious about the relationship between the quadriceps, hamstring, strength ratios and knee injuries. I found an excellent article Weak in the Knees by Krista Scott-Dixon Ph.D. She discusses many risk factors but this one caught my eye.
Strength ratios. Women tend to have stronger quadriceps relative to their hamstrings, which may decrease the hamstrings' ability to stabilize the knees. The general recommendation for a healthy hamstring-to-quadricep strength ratio is for the hamstring to be at least 60 percent – and ideally closer to 80 percent – as strong as the quad.

So back to the gym I go....

New Goals for 2010:
Balance out the strength of my right and left leg.
Calculate and improve my quadricep / hamstring strength ratio.

Tuesday Tip: Be aware of the quadricep / hamstring strength ratio for knee strength and injury prevention.


S.Smith said...

Most people fall forward while they walk and therefore create stronger quad ratio strength.

Martial arts training can (I think should - especially in Baguazhang) include pulling the body forward...that will develop a better and a functional strength ratio.


Michele said...

S.Smith: Thank you for commenting. Interesting observation on how people fall forward when they walk. I am new to Tai Chi but I feel more aware of my daily movement (walking) since I started.

I have to wonder if my recent lower back pain is a result of the quad / hamstring off balance...?

Felicia said...

hamosHey, Michele,

I had to laugh when you said that charting your routine in the gym took as much time as lifting did - I can soooo relate! Today was my first day in the gym since Friday and it took about 20 minutes to fill in what was done on those five days. Threw me way behind...

I think it's great that you are training your hamstrings individually. Many folks jump on the leg curl (or leg press) machine and lift both legs together. Since one leg will always be a bit stronger, it tends to dominate/compensate for the weaker leg - which means if one leg is slightly weaker than the other, it will probably always be. Lifting the weights one leg at a time helps both legs work. My right side tended to be a little weaker, so for me, the trick was to try to get the weights and reps on that side to match the other...

I'd heard about how women tend to have quad/hamstring strength imbalances that tend to lend female athletes more to knee injuries before (which I think is due to the structure of our child-bearingly practical hips), but it was great to see Dr. Scott-Dixon's strength ratio. Made me go check the chart, LOL, to see what my percentages are (I'm happy to report that my hamstring max is at 82% of my quad max! Whoo-hoo!). So, I guess writing all that stuff down really is a good thing...

Here's to healthy hammies :-0

Michele said...

Hi Felicia,

Thank you for commenting. That is a great Quad/Hamstring ratio!

At the gym today, I did not do as well. My left leg has weaker hamstrings. I was warned off the quad machines by my PT because they put too much pressure on the knee. I am still trying to figure it out.