Hamstring strain injuries (HSI) are one of the most prevalent and serious injuries affecting athletes, particularly those in team ball sports or track and field. Recent evidence demonstrates that eccentric knee flexor weakness and between limb asymmetries are possible risk factors for HSIs. While eccentric hamstring resistance training, e.g. the Nordic hamstring exercise (NHE) significantly increases eccentric hamstring strength and reduces HSI risk, little research has examined whether between limb asymmetries can be reduced with training. As augmented feedback (AF) can produce significant acute and chronic increases in muscular strength and reduce injury risk, one way to address the limitation in the eccentric hamstring training literature may be to provide athletes real-time visual AF of their NHE force outputs with the goal to minimise the between limb asymmetry.
Using a cross over study design, 44 injury free, male cricket players from two skill levels performed two NHE sessions on a testing device. The two NHE sessions were identical with the exception of AF, with the two groups randomised to perform the sessions with and without visual feedback of each limb’s force production in real-time. When performing the NHE with visual AF, the participants were provided with the following instructions to ‘reduce limb asymmetries as much as possible using the real-time visual force outputs displayed in front them’. Between limb asymmetries and mean peak force outputs were compared between the two feedback conditions (FB1 and FB2) using independent t-tests to ensure there was no carryover effect, and to determine any period and treatment effects. The magnitude of the differences in the force outputs were also examined using Cohen d effect size.
There was a significant increase in mean peak force production when feedback was provided (mean difference, 21.7 N; 95% CI [0.2–42.3 N]; P = 0.048; d = 0.61) and no significant difference in between limb asymmetry for feedback or no feedback (mean difference, 5.7%; 95% CI [−2.8% to 14.3%]; P = 0.184; d = 0.41). Increases in force production under feedback were a result of increased weak limb (mean difference, 15.0 N; 95% CI [1.6–28.5 N]; P = 0.029; d = 0.22) force contribution compared to the strong limb.
The results of this study further support the potential utility of AF in improving force production and reducing risk in athletic populations. While there are currently some financial limitations to the application of this training approach, even in high-performance sport, such an approach may improve outcomes for HSI prevention programs. Further research with more homogenous populations over greater periods of time that assess the chronic effect of such training practices on injury risk factors and injury rates are also recommended.