Impact of exercise selection on hamstring muscle activation

Bourne, Matthew N., Williams, Morgan D., Opar, David A., Al Najjar, Aiman, Kerr, Graham K., & Shield, Anthony J. (2016) Impact of exercise selection on hamstring muscle activation. British Journal of Sports Medicine. (In Press)

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  • To determine which strength training exercises selectively activate the biceps femoris long head (BFLongHead) muscle.


  • We recruited 24 recreationally active men for this two-part observational study. Part 1: We explored the amplitudes and the ratios of lateral (BF) to medial hamstring (MH) normalised electromyography (nEMG) during the concentric and eccentric phases of 10 common strength training exercises. Part 2: We used functional MRI (fMRI) to determine the spatial patterns of hamstring activation during two exercises which (1) most selectively and (2) least selectively activated the BF in part 1.


  • Eccentrically, the largest BF/MH nEMG ratio occurred in the 45° hip-extension exercise; the lowest was in the Nordic hamstring (Nordic) and bent-knee bridge exercises. Concentrically, the highest BF/MH nEMG ratio occurred during the lunge and 45° hip extension; the lowest was during the leg curl and bent-knee bridge. fMRI revealed a greater BF(LongHead) to semitendinosus activation ratio in the 45° hip extension than the Nordic (p<0.001). The T2 increase after hip extension for BFLongHead, semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles was greater than that for BFShortHead (p<0.001). During the Nordic, the T2 increase was greater for the semitendinosus than for the other hamstring muscles (p≤0.002).


  • We highlight the heterogeneity of hamstring activation patterns in different tasks. Hip-extension exercise selectively activates the long hamstrings, and the Nordic exercise preferentially recruits the semitendinosus. These findings have implications for strategies to prevent hamstring injury as well as potentially for clinicians targeting specific hamstring components for treatment (mechanotherapy).

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ID Code: 95033
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Injury prevention, rehabilitation, physical therapy
DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095739
ISSN: 0306-3674
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > Schools > School of Exercise & Nutrition Sciences
Copyright Owner: Copyright Article author (or their employer) 2016. Produced by BMJ Publishing Group Ltd under licence
Deposited On: 20 Apr 2016 01:30
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2016 06:07

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