Your legs not only consist of your glutes and your quads. There are many big and small muscle groups that you need to take care of if you want to build bigger and more toned legs - such as your hamstrings! These muscles run along the back of your thigh from your hip to your knee joint and are in charge of helping you flex your knees and extend your hips, two big body parts that you use all the time at the gym in a variety of exercises. But having strong hamstrings is not only useful when working out! They also allow you to walk, run, jump, and do any other day-to-day activity that involves using your knees and hips, including walking up and down the stairs or biking.
Point is - you want to work out your hamstrings effectively. If you’re having difficulty finding exercises that really work your hamstring muscles, then keep on reading! We’ve compiled a list of the best hamstring exercises that you can include in your next leg workout!
This bodyweight exercise might be known as a glute exercise, but it actually helps fire up your hamstrings too! The glute bridge is a beginner move that you can do with or without weights, depending on your fitness level and how you feel more comfortable. Besides your hamstrings and your glutes, this simple but effective exercise targets your hip abductors and recruits the obliques, rectus abdominis, and quadriceps for stability. It’s a great leg strengthening movement that can also strengthen your lower back and improve hip mobility and posture.
How to do it: First, lie face-up on the floor, preferably using a yoga mat or some other kind of cushioning. Bend your knees so that your feet are firmly planted on the floor are at a comfortable distance from your body. To begin, lift your hips off the ground until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders, and squeeze your core, hamstrings, and glutes. Be careful not to overextend your back by keeping your abs engaged. Hold this position for a moment, then lower your body to the floor and repeat.
Variations: The glute bridge has many variations that you can try, but one of the most effective ones for strengthening your hamstrings is the single-leg glute bridge. To perform this exercise, get into a glute bridge position with both feet on the floor, and raise your left leg as much as you can while keeping it straight. You’ll start the movement by going up and down with your right leg, keeping the other one balanced in the air.
Barbell good morning
For some reason this exercise is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be because it’s extremely effective at targeting your hamstrings!
Aside from your hamstrings, good mornings work your gluteus maximus and the inside of your thigh, as well as the erector spinae, obliques, and rectus abdominis for stability. The addition of the barbell to this exercise will maximize its effect on your muscles and make them work hard, but you can do it without any weights at first to work on your form, and then use a dumbbell to strengthen the muscles around your spine to prepare you for the barbell later on.
How to do it: Stand in front of a squat rack with a barbell placed at about chest height. Take a step under the bar, placing it behind you and over your shoulders while keeping a straight back and your shoulder blades pinched together. Lift the bar and take a step away from the squat rack, placing your feet hip-width apart. Keeping your knees slightly bent, begin by hinging forward at the hips, keeping your back straight until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor. Hold for a moment, then go back to the starting position and repeat.
While the traditional deadlift is great for working your leg muscles, the Romanian deadlift (RDL) will place more focus on your posterior chain, specifically your hamstrings and glutes. This will help you have a more targeted workout that will also improve your hip mobility. It also works your forearm flexors, which improves your grip strength - which is crucial for all your other heavy compound lifts!
How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, or in a narrower stance, on a shallow platform with feet flat beneath the barbell. Bend your knees and hinge forward while keeping your lower back straight, and grasp the barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip to lift the weight to a standing position. This will be your starting position. To begin, lower the bar by bending your hips until it passes your knees. Bend your knees slightly while you’re going down and keep your waist straight, flexing only slightly at the bottom. With your knees still bent, lift the bar by extending your hips until you’re standing upright again, and repeat. Make sure to keep your shoulders back during the movement, without rounding them.
This effective posterior chain exercise will give your legs a good burn! It targets your hamstrings, glutes, and your lower back, but what makes it stand out from other leg exercises is that it trains both of the hamstrings’ key functions at the same time: knee flexion and hip extension, through the full range of motion. This makes it a killer hamstring exercise that will help you strengthen them and grow bigger and nicer legs in the process, and a must-do exercise for those days where you want to shift the focus to your posterior chain.
You will need a glute-ham machine for this exercise, but if there isn’t one at your gym you can place your feet under a barbell or a rack that can hold your feet in place, or ask a workout buddy for assistance.
How to do it: First, adjust the equipment to fit your body comfortably. Kneel on the pad and place your feet between the rollers so that they’re firmly in place as if you were kneeling on the floor. Fold your arms across your chest and begin by lowering your body, using your legs to descend in a controlled manner while the machine holds your feet in place. Keep your body straight during this movement, and continue until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Hold this position for a moment while squeezing your hamstrings, glutes, and core, then go back up and repeat.
The kettlebell swing is a great strength training exercise that can double as a cardio exercise because of how explosive it is, making it a great addition to a HIIT workout! This movement activates your hamstrings to help swing the kettlebell front and back, while also targeting your glutes, lats, hips, shoulders, and pecs. It burns a ton of calories and gets your heart pounding, and also helps improve your flexibility because of its wide range of motion.
How to do it: First, stand with both feet shoulder-width apart and grasp the kettlebell handle with both hands. Begin lowering your body by hinging at the hips, driving the kettlebell down and between your legs. Keeping your back and arms straight, lift your torso and thrust your hips forward explosively to swing the kettlebell to shoulder height. Use the momentum of the hip thrust to lift the weight up in the air, don’t use your arms, and keep your core, glutes, and hamstrings tight throughout the whole range of movement. Reverse the movement by bringing the kettlebell back down and between your legs, and repeat.
Lying leg curl
Also known as the hamstring curl, this isolated movement is similar to the glute-ham raise, but it’s performed lying down, shifting the focus of the muscles involved. When performed correctly, it can be an extremely effective exercise for your hamstrings and calves, while also targeting your glutes and quads. It’s a beginner movement that can be performed with or without a machine, but using the leg curl machine is strongly suggested if you’re looking to grow bigger and stronger hamstrings in no time!
How to do it: First, make sure to adjust the leg curl machine so it fits your body comfortably. Lie face down on the machine while fully extending your legs and place your feet under the roller pad so it’s resting on top of your lower calves, just above your heels. Grab the handles of the machine with your hands for support and stability. Begin by flexing your knees, lifting your feet in the air, and pressing the roller, driving your ankles towards your glutes. Flex your knees as much as you can, then hold the position for a moment before releasing and repeating.
Stability ball leg curl
Also known as swiss ball leg curl, or hamstring curl, this killer exercise will primarily target your hamstrings and improve your stability. It can be done on a lying leg curl machine, but this variation of the leg curl will further challenge your leg strength and knee flexion. Aside from the hamstrings, this exercise also targets your glutes, calves, quads, and your core for stability. The movement of the ball forces your entire body to engage and stay activated throughout the whole workout, and the added challenge of stability helps strengthen every muscle involved, particularly in the leg and core area.
How to do it: First, lie on the floor face up with your arms to your sides, palms facing down, and your legs extended. Rest your feet on the stability ball in a comfortable position for you, lifting your hips off the floor and forming a straight line with your body from your shoulders to your feet. Begin by bending your knees and rolling the ball toward you with your calves. Your pelvis should be going up in a controlled motion until your feet are planted on the ball. Squeeze, hold for a couple of seconds, then release the ball to the starting position and repeat.
Barbell hip thrust
The standard hip thrust is a great leg strengthening exercise, but the barbell hip thrust is the variation that will make you sweat and give your leg muscles a good burn! The heavy barbell helps create resistance during the whole range of movement, strengthening your hamstrings and glutes as well as your hip muscles and lower back, which will be in charge of pushing the bar up. You can perform this exercise with a plate or a dumbbell on your pelvis so practice good form before adding the barbell to your workout.
How to do it: Sit on the floor with the long side of the bench behind your back and a barbell directly in front of you. Roll the barbell back and place them directly above your hips. Position your shoulder blades and upper back on the corner of the bench and place your feet on the floor shoulder-width apart with your knees bent. Grasp the bar on each side and begin by raising it upward, driving through your heels, and extending your hips until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Make sure to keep the weight on your feet and shoulder blades. Pause for a moment, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat.
Bulgarian split squat
Squats are one of the best compound exercises for all fitness levels, and there are many variations that you can try to further train your lower body muscles. The Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral squat variation that targets your hamstrings, glutes, calves, hips, and abs, and it helps fix any muscle imbalances that you may have by working one leg at a time. The deeper you go into the squat, the bigger the challenge is for your muscles, so try to work on your form and leg strength to make the most out of this lower body exercise.
How to do it: First, stand in front of a bench or another elevated surface where you can comfortably place your left foot behind you, keeping the right foot firmly planted on the floor. You should be at a comfortable distance from the bench so that you can perform the squat movement without losing your balance and preventing your knee from going past your toes. Begin the movement by bending your right knee, lowering your body until your right tight is near parallel to the floor. Pause for a moment, go back up, and repeat. Finish your reps with one leg and then switch to the other one. You can also make this a weighted exercise by grabbing a dumbbell in each hand.
In summary, the hamstrings are a key muscle of your lower body that you definitely want to keep strong and healthy, so try to include some of these exercises next time you have leg day to make sure you’re not neglecting any major muscle groups. Always make sure you’re going at your own pace and choosing a weight that’s appropriate for your current fitness level so you can make progress without injuring yourself!
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