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Mechanics of the Human Hamstring Muscles during Sprinting


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2012 - Volume 44 - Issue 4 - p 647–658
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318236a3d2
Applied Sciences

Purpose An understanding of hamstring mechanics during sprinting is important for elucidating why these muscles are so vulnerable to acute strain-type injury. The purpose of this study was twofold: first, to quantify the biomechanical load (specifically, musculotendon strain, velocity, force, power, and work) experienced by the hamstrings across a full stride cycle; and second, to determine how these parameters differ for each hamstring muscle (i.e., semimembranosus (SM), semitendinosus (ST), biceps femoris long head (BFLH), biceps femoris short head (BFSH)).

Methods Full-body kinematics and ground reaction force data were recorded simultaneously from seven subjects while sprinting on an indoor running track. Experimental data were integrated with a three-dimensional musculoskeletal computer model comprised of 12 body segments and 92 musculotendon structures. The model was used in conjunction with an optimization algorithm to calculate musculotendon strain, velocity, force, power, and work for the hamstrings.

Results SM, ST, and BFLH all reached peak strain, produced peak force, and formed much negative work (energy absorption) during terminal swing. The biomechanical load differed for each hamstring muscle: BFLH exhibited the largest peak strain, ST displayed the greatest lengthening velocity, and SM produced the highest peak force, absorbed and generated the most power, and performed the largest amount of positive and negative work.

Conclusions As peak musculotendon force and strain for BFLH, ST, and SM occurred around the same time during terminal swing, it is suggested that this period in the stride cycle may be when the biarticular hamstrings are at greatest injury risk. On this basis, hamstring injury prevention or rehabilitation programs should preferentially target strengthening exercises that involve eccentric contractions performed with high loads at longer musculotendon lengths.

Supplemental digital content is available in the text.

1Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Melbourne, Victoria, AUSTRALIA; 2Department of Physical Therapies, Australian Institute of Sport, Belconnen ACT, AUSTRALIA; and 3 Department of Biomechanics and Performance Analysis, Australian Institute of Sport, Belconnen ACT, AUSTRALIA

Address for correspondence: Anthony G. Schache, Ph.D., Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia; E-mail:

Submitted for publication June 2011.

Accepted for publication September 2011.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (

©2012The American College of Sports Medicine