Purpose: Increasing age, high quadriceps strength, and low hamstring muscle strength are associated with hamstring strain injury in soccer. The authors investigated the age-related variation in maximal hamstring and quadriceps strength in male elite soccer players from under-13 (U-13) to the senior level.
Methods: A total of 125 elite soccer players were included from a Danish professional soccer club and associated youth academy (first tier; U-13, n = 19; U-14, n = 16; U-15, n = 19; U-17, n = 24; U-19, n = 17; and senior, n = 30). Maximal voluntary isometric force was assessed for the hamstrings at 15° knee joint angle and for the quadriceps at 60° knee joint angle (0° = full extension) using an external-fixated handheld dynamometer. Hamstring-to-quadriceps strength (H:Q) ratio and hamstring and quadriceps maximal voluntary isometric force levels were compared across age groups (U-13 to senior).
Results: Senior players showed 18% to 26% lower H:Q ratio compared with all younger age groups (P ≤ .026). Specific H:Q ratios (mean [95% confidence interval]) were as follows: senior, 0.45 (0.42-0.48); U-19, 0.61 (0.55-0.66); U-17, 0.56 (0.51-0.60); U-15, 0.59 (0.54-0.64); U-14, 0.54 (0.50-0.59); and U-13, 0.57 (0.51-0.62). Hamstring strength increased from U-13 to U-19 with a significant drop from U-19 to the senior level (P = .048), whereas quadriceps strength increased gradually from U-13 to senior level.
Conclusion: Elite senior soccer players demonstrate lower H:Q ratio compared with youth players, which is driven by lower hamstring strength at the senior level compared with the U-19 level combined with a higher quadriceps strength. This discrepancy in hamstring and quadriceps strength capacity may place senior-level players at increased risk of hamstring muscle strain injuries.
Keywords: hamstring injury; normative values; professional soccer; strength profiles; thigh injury.