The Best Hamstring Exercises For Monstrous Hamstrings

Want to sculpt strong, toned hamstrings? Our guide explores a variety of the most effective hamstring exercises, including bodyweight options for at-home workouts. Discover exercises that target different hamstring regions and build overall leg strength.

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Introduction

Hey there, fitness enthusiast! Ready to give your hamstrings the attention they deserve? You’ve come to the right place. We’re about to dive into everything you need to know about hamstring exercises – from why they’re crucial to how to do them right.

Let’s face it, hamstrings often play second fiddle to the more showy quad muscles. But here’s the thing: neglecting your hamstrings is a rookie mistake. These powerful muscles at the back of your thighs make up about a third of your leg mass. They’re not just there for show – they’re crucial for everything from sprinting to jumping, and even for keeping your back healthy.

In this guide, we’ll bust some common myths about hamstring training, explore the best exercises to build strong, sculpted hammies, and give you all the tools you need to take your leg day to the next level. So, let’s get to it!

Understanding the Hamstrings

Before we jump into the exercises, let’s take a quick anatomy lesson. Don’t worry, we’ll keep it simple and painless!

The Hamstring Muscles

Your hamstrings aren’t just one muscle, but a group of three:

  • Biceps Femoris (yep, you’ve got biceps in your legs too!)
  • Semitendinosus (try saying that five times fast)
  • Semimembranosus (okay, who came up with these names?)

These muscles run down the back of your thigh, from your hip to just below your knee.

What Do Hamstrings Do?

Your hamstrings are multi-taskers. They’re responsible for:

  • Bending your knee (think of the motion when you’re doing a well leg exercises)
  • Extending your hip (like when you’re pushing your hips forward)
  • Rotating your thigh (useful for those dance moves)

These functions make your hamstrings crucial for everyday movements, not just for gym exercises.

Why Hamstrings Matter

Strong hamstrings aren’t just for bodybuilders. They’re essential for:

  • Improving your athletic performance (run faster, jump higher)
  • Maintaining good posture (especially if you sit a lot)
  • Preventing injuries (weak hamstrings can lead to back and knee problems)
  • Creating well-balanced, aesthetically pleasing legs (no chicken legs here!)

Now that we know why hamstrings are so important, let’s dive into the exercises that’ll help you build them up!

Barbell Hamstring Exercises

Alright, it’s time to get heavy! Barbell exercises are fantastic for building serious hamstring strength and size. Let’s start with the king of all hamstring exercises:

Deadlifts

The deadlift workout is like the Swiss Army knife of exercises – it does a bit of everything. But for our hammies, it’s pure gold.

#1 Conventional Deadlift

How to Deadlift with Perfect Technique – Fix Mistakes INSTANTLY (Conventional Deadlift Tutorial) (Video Credit: Eugene Teo YouTube Channel)

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes under the bar.
  • Bend at your hips and knees, grabbing the bar just outside your legs.
  • Keep your back straight, chest up, and core tight.
  • Push through your heels, straighten your legs, and stand up.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top, then lower the bar back down.

Remember, it’s called a DEADlift because you’re lifting “dead” weight from the floor each time. No bouncing!

#2 Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

5 Steps to A Perfect Romanian Deadlift (Video Credit: Eugene Teo YouTube Channel)

The RDL is like the deadlift’s cousin who’s really into hamstrings. Here’s the drill:

  • Start standing with the bar in front of your thighs.
  • Hinge at your hips, pushing your butt back.
  • Lower the bar along your legs, feeling a stretch in your hamstrings.
  • Once the bar passes your knees, stand back up, squeezing your glutes.

The key here is to keep a slight bend in your knees and focus on that hip hinge.

#3 Sumo Deadlift

Sumo Deadlift [Glute & Adductor Focused] (Video Credit: Physique Development YouTube Channel)

If you want to mix things up, try the sumo deadlift:

  • Stand with your feet wide, toes pointing out.
  • Grab the bar with your hands inside your legs.
  • Sit back and down, keeping your chest up.
  • Drive through your heels and stand up, locking out your hips.

The sumo style puts a bit more emphasis on your inner thighs and workout on the glutes but still gives your hamstrings a great workout.

#4 Good Mornings

Good Morning Technique video (Video Credit: The Queen of Lean YouTube Channel)

Despite the cheerful name, these can make for a tough morning after a leg day. Here’s how to do them:

  • Rest a barbell on your upper back, like you would for a squat accessory lifts.
  • Hinge at your hips, pushing your butt back.
  • Lower your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor.
  • Feel that stretch in your hamstrings? That’s the sweet spot.
  • Drive your hips forward to stand back up.

Start light with these – they can be deceptively challenging!

Dumbbell and Kettlebell Hamstring Exercises

No barbell? No problem! Fixed dumbbell set and kettlebells are great for hamstring work, especially when you want to focus on one leg at a time.

#1 Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift Exercise (Video Credit: Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift Exercise YouTube Channel)

This exercise will test your balance as much as your hamstring strength:

  • Stand on one leg, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell sets in the opposite hand.
  • Hinge at your hip, lowering the weight toward the floor.
  • Extend your free leg behind you for balance.
  • Once you feel a good stretch in your hamstring, stand back up.
  • Do all reps on one side before switching.

Pro tip: If you’re wobbling like a newborn giraffe, don’t worry. It gets easier with practice!

#2 Bulgarian Split Squats

How to do a Bulgarian Split Squat / Proper Setup (Video Credit: Denvyr | Realistic Fitness Dietitian YouTube Channel)

These are like lunges on steroids:

  • Stand about 2-3 feet in front of a exercise bench.
  • Place one foot behind you on the bench.
  • Lower your back knee toward the floor.
  • Push through your front heel to stand back up.
  • Feel free to hold dumbbells for an extra challenge.

Your front leg will be doing most of the work here, giving those hamstrings and glutes a real run for their money.

#3 Kettlebell Swings

KETTLEBELL SWING WITHOUT HURTING YOUR BACK! (Video Credit: Dr. Dan’s Plan YouTube Channel)

Time to channel your inner pendulum:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, kettlebell between your feet.
  • Hinge at your hips, reaching back to grab the kettlebell.
  • Hike it back between your legs, then explosively drive your hips forward.
  • Let the kettlebell swing up to about chest height.
  • As it falls, hinge again for the next rep.

Remember, it’s all in the hips! This isn’t an arm exercise – your hamstrings and glutes should be doing the work.

Machine Hamstring Exercises

Machines might not be as cool as free weights, but they’re great for isolating your hamstrings and really feeling the burn.

#1 Seated Hamstring Curls

How to PROPERLY Seated Hamstring Curl (FIX THIS NOW) (Video Credit: Colossus Fitness YouTube Channel)

This is probably what you think of when someone says “hamstring exercise”:

  • Sit on the machine with the pad just above your heels.
  • Curl your legs back as far as you can.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.
  • Resist the temptation to swing – slow and controlled is the name of the game.

Try holding the contraction for a second at the top of each rep for extra hamstring fun!

#2 Prone Leg Curls

How To Do A Lying Leg Curl (Prone Leg Curl) (Video Credit: PureGym YouTube Channel)

Like the seated curls, but you’re face down:

  • Lie face down on the machine, the backs of your ankles under the pad.
  • Curl your legs up towards your butt.
  • Slowly lower back down.
  • Again, no swinging allowed!

Some people prefer these to seated curls – try both and see what feels best for you.

#3 Glute-Ham Raise (GHR)

Home Glute Hamstring Raise Exercise (Video Credit: SynergyFitnessTeam YouTube Channel)

This one’s a doozy:

  • Set up on the GHR machine with your feet secured.
  • Start with your body straight, perpendicular to the ground.
  • Lower yourself down, keeping your hips extended.
  • Use your hamstrings to pull yourself back up.

Can’t do a full rep? No shame in using your arms to assist – these are tough!

Bodyweight Hamstring Exercises

No equipment? No excuses! These exercises prove you don’t need fancy gear to work your hamstrings.

#1 Nordic Hamstring Curls

Nordic Hamstring (Video Credit: The Restore Clinic YouTube Channel)

Warning: these are hardcore:

  • Kneel on the ground, have a partner hold your ankles.
  • Keeping your body straight, slowly lower yourself forward.
  • Use your hands to catch yourself when you can’t hold it anymore.
  • Push back up to the starting position.

If you can do these without crying, you’re officially a hamstring hero.

#2 Sliding Leg Curls

Slider Leg Curl (Video Credit: Kia Khadem YouTube Channel)

Got a smooth floor and some socks? You’re good to go:

  • Lie on your back, heels on something that can slide (sliders, towel, socks on a smooth floor).
  • Bridge your hips up.
  • Slide your feet in towards your butt.
  • Slowly slide them back out.

Keep those hips up the whole time for maximum hamstring engagement!

Programming Hamstring Exercises

Now that you’ve got a toolbox full of hamstring exercises, let’s talk about how to use them.

Frequency

Aim to hit your hamstrings 2-3 times a week. They’re a big muscle group and can handle the volume.

Exercise Selection

Mix it up! Include a mix of:

  • Hip hinge movements (like deadlifts and RDLs)
  • Knee flexion exercises (like leg curls)
  • Single-leg exercises (like single-leg RDLs)

Sets, Reps, and Intensity

  • For strength: 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps, heavy weight
  • For muscle growth: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, moderate weight
  • For endurance: 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps, lighter weight

Sample Hamstring Workout

Here’s a sample workout to get you started:

  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Bulgarian Split Squats: 3 sets of 10-12 reps per leg
  • Seated Leg Curls: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Nordic Hamstring Curls: 2 sets to failure

Remember, proper form is key. It’s better to do fewer reps with good form than to cheat your way through more reps.

conclusionConclusion

Congratulations! You’re now armed with everything you need to build strong, sculpted hamstrings. Remember, consistency is key. Incorporate these exercises into your routine regularly, focus on proper form, and be patient – building great hamstrings takes time.

Listen to your body, progress gradually, and don’t forget to stretch and recover properly. Before you know it, you’ll be showing off those hamstring gains and wondering why you ever neglected them in the first place.

Now get out there and give those hammies the love they deserve. Happy training!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How often should I train my hamstrings?
A. Aim to train your hamstrings 2-3 times per week. This frequency allows for adequate recovery while still providing enough stimulus for growth and strength gains. Remember, your hamstrings are involved in many lower body exercises, so factor in your overall leg training when planning your hamstring-specific work.

Q. Are squats good for hamstrings?
A. While squats do involve the hamstrings to some degree, they’re primarily a quadriceps-focused exercise. Squats alone aren’t enough for optimal hamstring development. To really target your hamstrings, include exercises like deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, and leg curls in your routine.

Q. Why do my lower back and hamstrings always feel tight?
A. Tight hamstrings and lower back often go hand in hand. This could be due to prolonged sitting, inadequate stretching, or muscle imbalances. Regular stretching, proper warm-ups before exercise, and a balanced strength training program can help alleviate this tightness. If the problem persists, consider consulting a physical therapist.

Q. Can I train hamstrings and quads on the same day?
A. Yes, you can train hamstrings and quads on the same day. In fact, this is common in many leg day routines. Just be mindful of exercise order. If hamstrings are your priority, train them first when you’re fresh. Alternatively, you can split your leg training into quad-focused and hamstring-focused days.

Q. What’s the best hamstring exercise for beginners?
A. For beginners, the Romanian deadlift (RDL) is an excellent starting point. It teaches proper hip hinge mechanics, which is crucial for many hamstring exercises. Start with light weights or even just a barbell to master the form before adding more weight.

Q. How can I prevent hamstring injuries?
A. To prevent hamstring injuries:

  • Always warm up properly before exercising
  • Gradually increase the intensity and volume of your training
  • Include exercises that work the hamstrings at different lengths (like RDLs and leg curls)
  • Don’t neglect hamstring flexibility and mobility work
  • Ensure balanced development between your quadriceps and hamstrings
Q. Why do I feel deadlifts more in my lower back than my hamstrings?
A. If you’re feeling deadlifts primarily in your lower back, it’s likely due to improper form. Common issues include rounding the back, not engaging the lats, or not hinging at the hips properly. Focus on pushing your hips back, keeping your back flat, and driving through your heels. Consider working with a trainer to perfect your form.

Q. Can I build big hamstrings with just bodyweight exercises?
A. While it’s challenging to build significant hamstring size with only good bodyweight exercises, you can certainly improve strength and endurance. Exercises like Nordic curls, sliding leg curls, and single-leg deadlifts can be very effective. For optimal growth, however, adding resistance with weights is recommended when possible.

Q. How long does it take to see results from hamstring training?
A. The timeline for seeing results can vary based on factors like genetics, diet, and training consistency. Generally, you might start feeling stronger within a few weeks of consistent training. Visible changes in muscle size typically take at least 6-8 weeks of regular training and proper nutrition. Remember, patience and consistency are key!

Q. Should I stretch my hamstrings before or after working out?
A. It’s generally recommended to do dynamic stretches before your workout and static stretches after. Before exercising, focus on movements that warm up the hamstrings, like leg swings or walking lunges. Save the long-hold stretches for after your workout when your muscles are warm and pliable.

Q. Why do my hamstrings cramp during exercises?
A. Hamstring cramps during exercise can be caused by factors like dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or muscle fatigue. Ensure you’re well-hydrated, consider your electrolyte intake, and gradually build up the intensity of your hamstring training. If cramps persist, consult with a healthcare professional.

Q. Can strong hamstrings improve my athletic performance?
A. Absolutely! Strong hamstrings are crucial for many athletic movements. They contribute to speed, power, and explosiveness in activities like sprinting, jumping, and changing direction quickly. Many athletes focus on hamstring strength to enhance their performance and reduce injury risk.

Jonathan Valdez, RDN, CDCES, CPT

Jonathan Valdez, RDN, CDCES, CPT is a New York City-based telehealth registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications expert.
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