Your hamstrings are one of the most neglected muscles in the lower body, with many gym-goers prioritizing working out their glutes and quads over it. It’s the large muscle that runs along the back of your leg, and it works with your quads to move your legs.
Modern life makes things even worse since many of us sit for extended periods. This shortens your hamstrings over time, weakening them.
Strong hamstrings help to balance muscles in your legs, increasing your lower body strength and explosiveness.
Seven Exercises That Strengthen Your Hamstrings
Ready to start giving your hamstrings the attention they deserve? Here are several exercises that help to strengthen them:
1) Romanian Deadlifts
Romanian deadlifts are one of the best ways to target your hamstrings. Unlike conventional deadlifts that put a lot of the workload on the lower back, Romanian deadlifts force your hamstrings to do most of the work.
Here’s how you perform a Romanian deadlift:
- Start with your feet about hip-width apart while holding a barbell at thigh level. Keep your spine neutral, push your glutes back, tilt your hips, and bend at your hips.
- Sit into your heels while keeping the bar close to your shins. Go as low as your flexibility allows. Don’t strain your lower back while lowering yourself.
- Once you’re as low as you can do, use your hips to drive the barbell back towards your upper thigh to complete a rep. Aim for three sets of eight to twelve reps.
2) Bulgarian Split Squats
This exercise targets multiple muscles in your legs, including your hamstrings. Here’s what it looks like:
- Get into position with a bench behind you and dumbbells in your hands. Rest your back foot on the bench while keeping your front foot in front of you. Adjust as necessary until you feel balanced in the position.
- Lower your hips towards the floor while keeping most of your weight on the front foot planted firmly on the floor.
- Once you’re as low as you can get, push off the ground with your front foot. Perform three sets of eight to twelve reps, then do the same with your other leg.
3) Lying Leg Curls
You might feel a bit awkward as you get into position for this exercise, but it’s one of the best isolation exercises for your hamstrings. You’ll find a lying leg curl machine in most gyms nowadays.
Make sure you rest on your stomach when performing leg curls, and start with light weights you can comfortably move. The key to getting the most out of this exercise is to perform your reps slowly and not lock out after each rep. That way, your hamstrings carry the load throughout your sets. Use leg curls to supplement your hamstring workouts and improve definition there.
4) Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings help develop power, size, and strength in your hamstrings. You can perform this exercise at home or the gym. You just need some space and a kettlebell. Here’s what the exercise looks like:
- Start with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your chest up, with a kettlebell in front of you.
- While keeping your spine neutral, squat down and grab the kettlebell with both hands. Stand tall and shift your body weight into your heels while pushing your glutes backward.
- Drive down through your heels and power your hips forward, swinging the kettlebell upwards. Make sure the kettlebell is moved by your hips and not your upper body. Your arms should only be holding on to the kettlebell, not moving it in any way.
5) Back Squats
Back squats are one of the best compound exercises for building muscular, strong legs. Most squat variations target your hamstrings to an extent, but back squats give them a thorough workout. The key to getting the most out of any type of squat is dropping deep down into your squat. Cheating with half squats isn’t going to cut it.
Here’s how you perform a back squat:
- Unrack a barbell and stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart.
- Engage your core as you squat by pushing your hips backward while keeping your spine neutral. Your hamstrings start carrying a considerable portion of the load when your thighs break parallel, so go as low as you can.
- Once you’re as low as your flexibility allows, drive back up to the starting position and squeeze your glutes at the top.
6) Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
Here’s an excellent way to target your hamstrings without needing any serious machinery besides a pair of dumbbells. Here’s what the exercise looks like:
- Get into the starting position with your feet together and a dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbells should rest in front of your legs.
- Shift your weight to your right leg, bending your right knee slightly. Raise your left leg straight behind your body, bending at the hips so your torso and left leg are almost parallel to the ground, and lower the dumbbells towards the floor.
- While keeping your core tight and your back straight, push through your right heel to stand upright and pull the dumbbells back to the starting position. Bring your left leg down, but keep most of your weight on your right foot.
- Pause for a moment and squeeze your glutes to complete a rep. Perform eight to twelve reps before switching legs.
7) Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Single-leg glute bridges will give your hamstrings a good workout, and your glutes as well. Here’s how you perform a single-leg glute bridge:
- Get into the starting position by lying face-up with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Use your core muscles to keep your back pressed against the floor.
- Now, lift your right foot off the floor and extend your right leg.
- Push off your left foot, squeeze your glutes, and engage your core muscles as you lift your hips off the ground. Lower yourself to the ground to complete a rep. Perform eight to twelve reps and switch legs. Go for about three sets to feel the burn.
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