Many people don’t perform enough hamstring workouts since the quads are typically the main focus of leg workouts. Not to say that’s a bad thing since your quads are the biggest, most powerful muscles in the body. However, you shouldn’t neglect training your hamstrings since they make up a third of the muscle mass in your legs. Keeping your hamstrings well-conditioned helps reduce muscle imbalances, protects against injuries, and increases muscle mass and strength in your legs.
Your hamstrings are located at the back of your leg and consist of four muscles: the long and short biceps femoris, the semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. The primary purpose of your hamstrings is to assist with hip extension and thigh rotation while providing knee joint flexion.
The hamstrings rarely work on their own and often recruit stabiliser muscles and muscle fibres in the quads and glutes when engaged.
Ten Hamstring Workouts You Should Add To Your Weight Training Program
Now that we’ve gone over the importance of not neglecting your hamstrings, let’s take a look at some of the best hamstring workouts for strength and power:
1) Romanian Deadlift
Deadlifts are one of the most important weight training exercises since they provide a myriad of benefits. The exercise works virtually all the muscles in your body and it’s an excellent way to improve coordination and agility, stabilise the trunk, and establish safe motor patterns.
Deadlifts help to build functional strength which makes your everyday activities like unloading groceries a lot easier. The exercise improves bone density, joint stability, and the range of motion in the knees and hips. Most variations of deadlifts give your hamstrings an excellent workout, but the Romanian deadlift engages them the most.
To perform a Romanian deadlift:
- Grab the barbell in front of you with an overhand grip and keep it at hip level.
- Pull your shoulders back and keep your back straight.
- Shift your hips back as you gradually lower the bar toward the ground.
- Press your hips forward at the bottom to return to a standing position with the barbell at hip level. Aim for three sets of eight to twelve reps.
2) Bulgarian Split
Also called the split squat, the Bulgarian split is a unilateral exercise that improves overall athleticism, hip mobility, balance, and strength. It’s an excellent way to build power and strength in your hamstrings while engaging other muscles in your legs.
The exercise focuses on foot strength, hip mobility, ankle alignment, lumbopelvic stability, and gluteal-thigh strength. The exercise also engages your core since it engages them to maintain balance as you perform your reps.
Here’s what a Bulgarian split looks like:
- Stand about half a meter ahead of a knee-high platform. Extend one of your legs backwards and rest its toes on the platform. Your toes can be tucked in or flat depending on what feels more comfortable for you. Keep your shoulders and hips square.
- While keeping your torso upright, gradually lower the knee of your rear leg toward the floor until your front knee forms a 90-degree angle. You can go lower than that if your mobility allows for it.
- Perform about eight to twelve reps before switching legs. Try to keep your weight evenly distributed on your foot during your reps. You can make the exercise more challenging by grabbing a pair of kettlebells or dumbbells.
3) Prone Leg Curls
Prone leg curls are one of the best isolation exercises for your hamstrings. It allows you to focus solely on targeting your hamstrings and muscle contractions. It’s an effective way to strengthen your hamstring when using heavy weights and low reps, but it works best when used for hypertrophy (bodybuilding) training which involves using lighter weights and higher reps.
Prone leg curls allow you to work your hamstrings to fatigue without having to worry about maintaining your balance or dropping the weight. Put this exercise at the end of your workouts so you can work your hamstrings to failure.
To perform prone leg curls:
- Lay face-down as a hamstring-curl machine with your knees off the back edge of the bench. Place the lower part of your legs under the ankle pads so they make contact with your calves just above your ankles.
- While keeping your upper body still, curl your legs until the ankle pads touch your backside.
- Pause for two seconds at the top of the movement before lowering your legs down until they’re straight to complete a rep. Aim for three sets of eight to twelve reps.
4) Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings are an excellent way to target your hamstrings when done correctly. One thing we should clear up before going any further is that you shouldn’t swing the weight with your hands during the movement. Your arms are only used to hold the weight while you use your legs, hips, and core to swing it.
When done correctly, kettlebell swings improve cardiovascular endurance, balance, power, and total-body strength.
To perform kettlebell swings:
- Stand tall while holding a kettlebell with both hands. Use a light weight if it’s your first time performing the exercise.
- Tighten your core, soften your knees, and squeeze your shoulder blades together while keeping your arms loose.
- Shift your weight down into your heels as you lower your backside down and back.
- Explode through your hips to swing the weight upward by driving your heels into the floor. Try to bring the weight to chest level, while keeping your arms long. Snapping through your hips while squeezing your glutes and contracting your core help to get some extra elevation.
- Shift your weight back to your heels as the kettlebell comes back down to complete a rep. Aim for three sets of eight to twelve reps.
5) Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift is a more challenging variation of the standard Romanian deadlift. It’s a unilateral exercise that has been proven to be one of the best exercises for increasing strength and power in the hamstrings.
The single-leg Romanian deadlift is an excellent way to address muscle imbalances in your legs while improving your core and hip stability, balance, and coordination. Practice the movement for this exercise without weights a few times before grabbing a dumbbell or kettlebell.
Here’s what the exercise looks like:
- Start standing with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Raise one of your feet a few inches off the ground.
- Lower your torso by hinging at your hips until your upper body is parallel to the ground.
- Return to the starting position to complete a rep. Aim for three to five sets of eight to twelve reps.
6) Good Mornings
Here’s one of the least popular hamstring workouts you should be doing. Many lifters avoid this exercise since you can’t load up a barbell with weights when performing it, but that’s what makes it so effective at engaging your hamstrings.
Good form and moderate weight are all you need to give your hamstrings a thorough workout. Good mornings allow you to put tension on your hamstrings while they’re lengthened.
To perform the exercise:
- Pick up a barbell with your upper traps just like you would when performing back squats. Stand upright and keep your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart.
- Hinge your torso forward by pushing your hips back and slightly bending your knees. Imagine you were trying to close a door with your backside. Lower your torso until your spine is parallel to the floor.
- Tighten your core as you lift your torso back to the starting position to complete a rep. Aim for three sets of eight to twelve reps.
7) Razor Curl
The razor curl involves flexing your hip so you can have more intense contractions in your hamstrings at your hip and knee. It’s a more advanced exercise you should add to your weight training routine after building up strength in your hamstrings. The exercise engages and strengthens your hamstrings and glutes. It also strengthens your core.
Here’s what the exercise looks like:
- Use something sturdy to anchor your feet or get a training partner to hold your feet in place.
- Flex your hips slightly and maintain the position for the duration of the exercise. Lean forward while controlling the contraction of your arms until you touch the ground. If your flexibility doesn’t allow for that, go as low as you can.
- Return to the starting position to complete a rep. It’s okay to use your hands for some assistance if you need to.
8) Glute-Hamstring Raise
The glute hamstring raise works your posterior chain while making your hamstrings do most of the work. It’s also one of the few exercises that engage the two primary purposes of your hamstrings: Extending and bending at the knee. The glute-hamstring raise does this in one fluid movement, making them one of the most efficient ways to target your hamstrings. Most hamstring exercises only engage one of its functions.
The exercise involves starting with your torso parallel to the ground and using your hamstrings to lift your entire body up until it’s perpendicular to the floor.
To perform the exercise:
- You’ll need a glute-ham bench to perform the movement. These benches come with adjustable ankle pads and foot plates. You’ll need to do some experimenting to find out which setup works best for you. You want the footplate to be far away enough to leave your knees hanging off the pad when you get on it. The ankle pads should be set so your shins are slightly angled upward when your feet are on the plate at the top of the movement.
- Get on the machine, tuck your pelvis, and engage your core. This is the starting position which also happens to be the top of the exercise.
- Gradually extend your knees to lower your body until it’s parallel to the ground. Bend your hips slightly to get your torso a few inches below parallel.
- Drive the balls of your feet into the footplate as you extend your hip, so your heels rise off the footplate. Push through the pad and bend your knees to get back to the starting position to complete a rep. Aim for three sets of as many reps as you can.
9) Cable Pull-Through
The cable pull-through is an excellent way to work your hamstrings and glutes since using cables applies tension to your muscles throughout the movement. It’s a great way to work your hamstrings and glutes to hypertrophy and increase power and strength.
The exercise strengthens your ability to lock out your glutes by forcing you to sit back on your hips. It increases your ability to perform other hamstring exercises that require you to hinge your hips. It’s an excellent workout for anyone looking to work their hamstrings and glutes while giving their lower back some rest.
To perform a cable pull-through:
- Put a cable set on the lowest level and attach a rope to it. Turn away from the machine, keeping the rope attachment between your legs.
- With your palms facing away from each other, take a few steps away from the cable machine until you feel some tension in the cable.
- Place your feet about hip-width apart and hinge down. Keep your spine neutral in this position. Squeeze your glutes to reverse the motion and return to the starting point. Aim for three sets of eight to twelve reps.
10) Lateral Lunges
A lateral lunge is a unilateral exercise that makes you work in the frontal plane. Unlike conventional lunges which involve stepping backwards or forward, you move side to side when performing this movement.
Also known as the side-stepping lunge, lateral lunges help to address muscle imbalances, improve your mobility, and increase your balance. The exercise can be performed with only your body weight or with kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, and resistance bands. It’s an effective way to work your hamstrings while improving your adductor and hip strength.
To perform the exercise:
- Stand upright with a dumbbell or kettlebell held at chest level and your core tight.
- Take a large step to your right, while keeping your left leg straight. Push your hips back and bend your right knee as you lower yourself as far as you can comfortably go. Aim to at least get your thigh parallel to the ground.
- Explosively drive up and to the left to end up in the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Go for about eight to twelve reps in each direction. Aim for three sets.
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