May 27, 2020 14 min read
The hamstring muscles run the length of the back of the thigh and are instrumental in many daily movements. These leg muscles help you to stand upright, bend forward, walk, and run; any movement which extends the hips or flexes the knees. Hamstrings are often lesser-trained compared to the quads at the front of the thigh, and too much of an imbalance here can cause problems.
It’s important to properly train your hamstrings so that these muscles are correctly matched with the other major muscles in your legs. It’s normal for your quads to be slightly stronger than your hamstrings, but too much of a difference can cause knee injuries. Workouts like squats, jumps, sprinting, and lunging put a lot of pressure on your knees. You need strong hamstrings to stabilize this joint and prevent injury.
Exercises such as the squat and the lunge have long been favorites when developing strong thigh muscles, targeting the quads especially. However, you might not know that these workouts hit your hamstrings as well. While your quads take most of the punishment, the hamstrings work to stabilize your leg and help bring you back up to a standing starting position.
While these common exercises do hit the hammies, we’d highly recommend adding a few hamstring-specific exercises into your workout. This way, you’ll gain a better balance overall between muscles, and help prevent all-too-common hamstring injuries.
We’ve put together this list of 10 hamstring exercises to strengthen your legs and properly exercise this important muscle. By including some of these workouts in your regular routine, you’ll benefit from better form, stronger legs, and a more inclusive workout overall.
The most important reason to work out your hamstrings is to stabilize the knee joint and prevent injury, but it also helps on the road to a shredded body too! Read on to discover the most effective hamstring exercises you can try out today.
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Hamstrings are a common culprit for any exercise-related injury. Your hammies can easily be overworked as one of the largest muscle groups in your body. They’re an important muscle in walking, running, and many other daily movements.
When you’re going to work out your hamstring muscles, it’s vital to perform a few stretches beforehand. These will warm up the muscle, allowing you to work out more effectively, and making tight hamstrings and injury less likely. There are a multitude of different hamstring stretches, ranging from advanced to beginner levels, dependent on flexibility. All achieve the common goal of elongating your hamstring to a proper and functional level.
Remember, these are warm-up stretches and should only be done for roughly 10 seconds at a time. Any longer and you risk injury during your training session.
Here are a few hamstring stretches you can use to loosen up before your workout:
Now that you’re properly stretched and warmed up your hamstring muscles, it’s time to jump into your workout. We’ve compiled some of the most effective exercises for your hamstrings here, all workout towards stronger and more balanced leg muscles.
These hamstring exercises are great for improving hip and knee stability, posture, and of course for strengthening your hamstring muscles. Just select a few of your favorites and incorporate them into your usual workout routine, and start working towards improved balance and stronger hamstrings.
The leg curl is an effective way to isolate your hamstrings, which can result in greater strength and hypertrophy, making it a great option for bodybuilders. The stability of your hamstrings can be important for physical performance and daily activities, and the leg curl machine can help contribute to that. A balanced body is crucial for better lifts and helping reduce the risk of injury, and isolation exercises can help improve imbalances between important muscles like the quads and the hamstrings.
Along with the physical benefits, the convenience factor is another advantage to the leg curl. You can probably find this machine in almost any gym you walk into, and the beauty of machines is they can be user and beginner-friendly.
The lying leg curl is similar to the seated leg curl, but as the name suggests, you're in a different position. Like the seated curl, the hamstrings are activated by knee flexion, but in this position, the muscle is shortened due to less hip flexion. Lying down can allow for a greater range of motion and another beneficial way to isolate the hamstrings. Lifters may focus a lot on quad and glute exercises, which are important, but keeping the hamstrings strong is important for knee health and stability.
Without a machine, you could also perform with resistance bands or with a dumbbell in your ankles.
Believe it or not, you don't always need a barbell or a machine to train your hamstrings. Besides the added benefits of convenience and being less costly than barbells or dumbbells, studies suggest that resistance bands could produce similar effects to strength as conventional resistance training. The laying band curl is similar to the lying leg curl as the position and movement pattern are the same.
You can do this exercise almost anywhere, which makes it great to implement into a home workout or when all the gym equipment is taken.
A stretched muscle under load can produce as much as three times the hypertrophy, studies suggest, and the lifted toe deadlift stretches the hamstrings to a greater degree, making it a great variation for muscle growth. This is because the toes are elevated, creating flexion of the foot and a deeper stretch in the back of the legs. Lifting the toes can also be a beneficial form fixer for lifters who tend to use more of a squatting motion in their deadlift. This can help force the hips back instead of down.
The lifted toe deadlift can be done in a conventional style or Romanian and can be performed with a barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell.
The deadlift is one of the most popular and widespread lower body weightlifting exercises. There are few other workouts that can equal the deadlift in terms of effectiveness; it accurately targets muscles throughout the posterior chain and strengthens them with each repetition.
The Romanian Deadlift is a variation of the classic, offering all the same benefits with additional tension on the hamstrings.
By improving the movement of your hip flexors while keeping your back straight, the Romanian Deadlift is an excellent exercise to target and strengthen your hammies. You’ll need a kettlebell or alternatively a barbell to complete this exercise, which you can do at home or at the gym. If you aren’t sure which weight to use, we’d recommend starting out with a 20kg kettlebell. The Romanian Deadlift is most effective when you work with heavier weights, focusing on perfect form with a low number of reps. This way, the exercise will better target those hamstrings. If you’d prefer an exercise using lower weight and a higher number of reps, try the Stiff-Legged Deadlift instead.
The Romanian Deadlift is one of the best exercises you can complete for stronger hamstrings.
Another variation of the deadlift which is great for your hamstrings is the single-leg deadlift.
You’ll use a significantly smaller weight than with your usual deadlift exercises, as the single-leg deadlift requires much better balance to complete. Because the hamstring muscles play a huge role in stabilizing your knee joint, this exercise is perfect to strengthen it. Using a small weight, this challenging workout movement uses muscles throughout the lower body.
Your back, core, and leg muscles all benefit from the single-leg deadlift, improving posture and general stability.
You can complete this exercise using only your body weight, allowing you to focus more freely on perfect form and keeping your spine in a straight line. Alternatively, holding a small barbell in each hand will add some resistance to the exercise, and make your hamstrings work just a little bit harder. Compared to the Romanian Deadlift, this version activates more muscles in your core, as well as improves balance in the standing leg.
The kettlebell swing is a basic workout movement with explosive effects, and one of the best to add into your routine to target the hamstrings. This exercise has a lot of benefits, and it’s not only hugely beneficial to your hamstrings. The kettlebell swing, when completed correctly, helps to train your upper and mid-back, raises metabolism and is great for your hips and pelvis too. All the movement in a kettlebell swing centers around the hip flexors, but your hamstrings will reap the biggest benefits.
The only equipment you need for this exercise is a kettlebell, you can use the same 20kg weight as the Romanian Deadlift. If you’re not sure, we’d recommend trying with a smaller weight first, for example, a 16kg kettlebell. As the Kettlebell Swing is such a dynamic exercise, it’s even more important that you work on perfect form. The swinging motion with a heavyweight can easily cause injury if you aren’t careful, but completing this exercise correctly will do wonders for your hamstrings.
Another popular posterior chain weightlifting exercise is the glute-ham raise, which is arguably one of the single most effective ways to target your hammies. The Glute-Ham Raise also works out your glutes, lower back, and many other major muscles. There are many benefits of using the Glute-Ham raise to strengthen your hamstrings, including improving your squats, deadlifts, and even running. You’ll need to complete this workout at the gym unless you’re lucky enough to have GHR equipment at home.
You’ll need to use gym equipment for the Glute Ham Raise unless you’re set up at home.
Good Mornings are a great exercise to practice hinging at the hips, benefiting your glutes and lower back but primarily targeting those hamstrings. You can complete this exercise using only bodyweight, but adding a dumbbell creates extra strain on your hamstrings to better build and strengthen the muscle. Dumbbell Good Mornings are the ideal exercise to kick off your leg workout, before moving on to a more challenging movement.
This hamstring curl exercise can be completed using either a swiss ball (exercise ball) or slider. The swiss ball leg curl targets in particular the knee flexion function of the hamstrings, unlike deadlifts which focus on hip flexion. This hamstring workout is a good alternative when you don’t have access to a leg curl machine, and uses only your body weight to strengthen your legs.
Using these fantastic hamstring exercises, you can easily build strength in your lower legs.
These 10 hamstring training exercises are some of the best if you want to build balanced leg muscle. These lower body exercises are some of the best exercises you can complete when it comes to strength training your hammies. We recommend adding a few of these hamstring exercises into your lower body workout, so leg day will be even more exciting! Work on your knee and hip extension with some of the best hamstring exercises, and your hamstring strength will be off the charts.
Bonus tip: Check out this video demonstration of the Swiss Ball Leg Curl!