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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. 

Note: Want to grow your calves and hamstrings? Get the free Blueprint for Massive Calves & Hamstrings here!
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Pre-Workout Hamstring Stretches

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:

  • Single leg hamstring stretch: Sit on the floor with one leg extended straight in front, and the other bent at the knee so that your foot touches your thigh. Lean over towards the extended leg and try to hold on to your foot. You should feel a stretch in your hamstring, along the back of your thigh. Complete the stretch and repeat for the other leg. 
  • Seated hamstring stretch: This one is easy; sit on the ground with your legs together out front for a standard toe touch or spread apart at a 90-degree angle to give the different hamstring muscles a deeper stretch. Lean forwards and grab hold of your toes, pulling towards you for a deeper and more effective hamstring stretch. 
  • Leg up hamstring stretch: Lie flat on your bag and lift one leg straight up into the air, keeping it as straight as possible. Next, reach with your arms and grasp around your calf, and try to pull your leg into a deeper stretch. Repeat for both legs, and you've warmed up and ready for a killer hamstring workout. 
  • Standing one-leg hamstring stretch: Place one leg up on a sturdy structure that is approximately waist-high (lower for tighter hamstrings and higher for more advanced hamstrings). Begin to lean forward for a toe touch with both hands. Keep your leg as straight as possible but also arch your lower back and butt outwards in order to pull your hamstring muscle from both ends for a truly stretched feeling. 
Hamstring Stretch

The 10 Best Hamstring Exercises for Stronger Legs

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. 

1. Leg Curl Machine 

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. 

Hamstring Curl

How to do a Leg Curl:

  1. Align the point of rotation on the machine directly with your knees for a smooth and secure fit.
  2. Adjust the back support pad to fit snugly against your back so there is minimal to no space between your lower back and the corner edge of the seat. Fix the angle degree adjustment to a proper level.
  3. Place the back of your lower leg on top of the padded working arm and secure the lap pad against your thighs just above your knees.
  4. Begin curling your legs as far as possible to the back of your thighs by flexing at your knees. Hold the contraction tight for a good 3 seconds and slowly begin the negative portion of the exercise, lowering the weight back to starting position, as you keep your torso stationary. The working weights should never come into contact with the stack during the set as to keep a consistent working tension on the hamstrings for a fully engaging experience.

2. Lying Leg Curl Machine 

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. 

How to do a Lying Leg Curl:

  1. Align the point of rotation on the machine directly with your knees to have a smooth and secure fit.
  2. Position the working arm of the machine to press against the middle of the calf or slightly below and the angle adjustment to be less than 180 degrees when lying face down.
  3. Lying on the machine, you will keep your hips firmly pressed inward to squeeze the pad into the glutes for maximum contraction of the hamstring. Place hands on the handles provided, or around the edge of the bench.
  4. Curl your legs up as far as you can, while maintaining a squeezed glute form (not having an arched back). When you inhale, slowly lower the legs to a start position giving the negative a serious emphasis.

3. Variation Laying Band Curl 

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. 

Variation Laying Band Curl

How to do a Variation Laying Band Curl:

  1. Wrap the band around a secure pole-like structure, ensuring the band will not slip off, then proceed to slide your feet through the handle holes. 
  2. Once the handles are around your ankles, lay in a prone position and move far enough away from the anchor point so that the band can begin to tighten up.
  3. Curl your lower leg at the knee joint upward, firmly securing the handles hooked to your ankles. Keep your knees tight together as well as your ankles, throughout the full motion of the rep.
  4. A final tip for getting a fully engaged hamstring contraction is to squeeze glutes in and thrust hips forward slightly into the ground.

4. Lifted Toe Deadlift 

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. 

How to do a Lifted Toe Deadlift:

  1. Place a secure structure that is at least 1-2 inches off the ground.
  2. Place the ball of the foot on the edge of the lift with the heel remaining on the ground for an immediate deeper stretch in the calves and hamstrings. 
  3. From a standing position, you will slowly begin to lower into a straight leg (more advanced) or slight bend deadlift position, with either a straight bar or the appropriate amount of dumbbell weight in each hand. Keep the weight centered, as to not let the lower back overtake the burden.   

5. Romanian Deadlift

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. 

How to do a Romanian Deadlift:

  1. Your starting position should be stood up straight, with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. Draw your shoulder blades back and down, pushing your chest slightly outward to ensure proper posture. In your hands, firmly hold a kettlebell using an overhand grip (with palms towards you). 
  2. Take a deep breath, and bend forward from the hips only, ensuring your back and neck stay straight. As you lean over, let the kettlebell run down your legs, past your knees, until it reaches about mid-shin. The movement of your kettlebell should be controlled at all times; don’t let it swing, just raise and lower carefully. Ensure that your chest remains proud with your shoulders drawn backward.
  3. Exhale as the kettlebell reaches halfway down your shins. Then, push down on your heels and use your glutes and hamstrings to extend the hips and knees. As you return to your starting position, the kettlebell should slide gently back up your legs. Next, check that you’re fully upright with shoulder blades back and down, and you’re ready for the next repetition. 

The Romanian Deadlift is one of the best exercises you can complete for stronger hamstrings.

6. Single-Leg Deadlift

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.

How to do a Single Leg Deadlift:

  1. Start in a standing position, with your feet hip-width apart and facing forwards. You can hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of you, or if you don’t have one, a kettlebell or barbell works just as well. 
  2. Start to lean forward into your hips, maintaining your straight spine and keeping the weight held in front of you. Your bodyweight should shift onto a single leg, while the other should move slightly behind, ready to extend directly backward. 
  3. Raise your extended leg out behind you, while simultaneously leaning your upper body forward. Your arms should hang straight down gripping the weight, at a height just below your knees. Your whole body should form a “T” shape in this position, focusing on creating as straight a line as possible from your extended toe to the top of your head. Your standing leg should retain a slight bend while holding the rest of your body. 
  4. Slowly lower your extended leg back down to the floor, as your return to your starting position stood up straight. Repeat the exercise using your other leg. 

7. Kettlebell Swing 

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. 

How to do a Kettlebell Swing:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, holding a kettlebell with both hands in front. You should have a slight bend in your knees, try to maintain this leg position throughout your movement. Tilt your body forwards, inhaling as you move from the hips, allowing your kettlebell to swing gently backward between your legs. This is the starting position for this exercise, where you’ll return after each repetition. 
  2. Use your glutes and hamstrings to swing the kettlebell forwards and upwards to shoulder height. The extension of your hips and legs is the source of this movement, so you shouldn’t be using your arms other than to  firmly grip the weight. Exhale as you swing the kettlebell forwards in a controlled manner. 
  3. Next, inhale as you complete the kettlebell swing and bring the weight back to your starting position. You should bend your knees and tilt forward at the hips, making sure that your gluteus and hamstring muscles are powering the movement. Be careful not to lift the kettlebell with your arms or shoulders, as this is not proper form. Not only will you risk injury, but you’ll also miss out on working those hamstring muscles.

8. Glute-Ham Raise

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. 

How to do a Glute Ham Raise:

  1. Start face-down on the GHR apparatus, your body should be roughly parallel to the floor. Your thighs should be touching the half-moon pad, with your knees just behind it. Two smaller pads should touch the backs of your ankles, raise the pads to make the glute-ham raise more difficult. 
  2. Push your knees into the pad and contract your hamstrings, raising your torso upwards. Keep your back and torso as straight as possible, just pivoting from the knees. You should finish in an almost-kneeling position, held steady by your hamstrings. Make sure your feet stay parallel pointing straight downwards; don’t allow your heels to turn inward to maintain perfect form. 
  3. Lower your upper body back down to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner. Do not fall back down; use your hamstrings to control the movement gradually back to a parallel position. Repeat the exercise for reps. 

You’ll need to use gym equipment for the Glute Ham Raise unless you’re set up at home.

9. Dumbbell Good Mornings

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. 

How to do Dumbbell Good Mornings:

  1. Start by holding a dumbbell horizontally at your chest with both hands, standing with feet hip-width apart. You can cross your arms around the dumbbell if it helps to hold it more securely. 
  2. Maintaining the slightest bend at the knee, lean forward from the hips. You should push your butt backward while your torso folds in. You should bend over until your torso is just above being parallel to the floor. Stop when you reach this position and double-check that your spine is still aligned. 
  3. To return to your starting position, drive your hips forward and tighten your hamstrings to lift your body back upright. Squeeze your glutes together to complete the movement, and repeat as many times as necessary. 

10. Slider/Swiss Ball Leg Curl

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. 

How to do Swiss Ball Leg Curls:

  1. Start by lying flat on your back on the floor, with your feet firmly in place about 6 inches apart on top of a medium-sized exercise ball. Your pals should be on the floor by your sides.
  2. Raise your hips up off the floor by digging your heels into the exercise ball. Flex your feet and activate core muscles to stabilize the glute bridge position, squeezing your glutes and hamstrings. Try to keep your neck relaxed. 
  3. Like when using a leg curl machine, bend your knees and roll the ball towards you. Engage your core throughout to prevent undue strain on your lower back. 
  4. Hold this position, squeezing your hamstrings and glutes for a two-second count, before slowly reversing the movement as you return to your starting position on the floor. 

Using these fantastic hamstring exercises, you can easily build strength in your lower legs.

The Best Leg Exercises for your Hamstrings

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!