In physical fitness, it’s simple to concentrate on the muscles you can observe — you know, the ones on the front of your body (also known as your anterior chain). But your hamstrings, a trio of muscles along the back of the thighs, assist you in flexing and extending your knees and lengthening your legs from the hips (read: they’re extremely important). Weak hammies make it more challenging to run and kick and can contribute to discomfort in the lower back and knees. And to guarantee that your hamstrings are functioning at their full capacity, you also need to prioritize the muscles surrounding them — your quadriceps, adductors, and glutes.
So how can you effectively target the back of your thighs? To elongate and fortify these underappreciated movers, learn more about the advantages of hamstring exercises. Then, attempt 10 of the greatest hamstring exercises, as displayed by Jill Goodtree, NASM-GFI, NASM-CPT, RRCA run coach, and trainer at Rumble Boxing and Swerve Fitness.
Advantages of Strengthening Your Hamstrings
By the way, your hamstrings are a collection of muscles at the rear of your legs that consist of the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris, and they’re a crucial leg muscle, as stated by Goodtree. “Hamstrings are pivotal in the function of your knee and hip,” she clarifies. “Any activity that involves bending your knee, such as walking or running, employs your hamstrings.”
And surprise: The majority of individuals have a tendency to have stronger quadriceps, indicating that their anterior chain of leg muscles is more developed than the posterior chain (i.e., the backside of your leg muscles, which includes the hamstrings). Strengthening your hamstrings is vital in order to prevent muscle imbalances, which is imperative for avoiding injuries.
Top Tips for Training Hamstrings
When performing these hamstring exercises, keep in mind to maintain a flat back and engaged core, advises Goodtree. “In general, you should maintain a strong, neutral spine throughout all of these movements,” she states. “Activate your core to stabilize your spine and alleviate pressure on your back.” This movement reminder is especially crucial for weight-bearing hamstring exercises, such as deadlifts and kettlebell swings, in order to prevent lower back injuries.
The 10 Greatest Exercises for Hamstrings
Now that you understand why it’s highly significant to engage in hamstring exercises, it’s time to start moving.
Every one of these nine top-notch exercises for the hamstrings provides distinctive methods to focus on the muscle group, and you’ll observe an assortment of gear utilized in these demonstrations as well. In that manner, you can adapt your exercises for the hamstrings depending on the equipment that is available to you.
How to incorporate the top exercises for the back of your thighs into your exercise routine: To maximize the benefits of these exercises that strengthen your hamstrings, include them in your lower-body workout regimen once or twice per week on your “pull” day if you follow a workout split program. Aim for 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, gradually increasing the weight or intensity for the last few repetitions to create a challenging workout. Before you begin exercising, activate your muscles with a dynamic warm-up routine.
Here, observe Goodtree demonstrate each exercise that targets the hamstrings in its entirety and gain a deeper understanding of why each of these exercises strengthens your thigh muscles.
1. Kickstand Deadlift
Why it is effective: The kickstand deadlift imitates a single-leg deadlift by concentrating on one leg specifically, but it provides increased stability with both feet touching the ground.
A. Position yourself with moderately heavy dumbbells in both hands, arms by your sides, and feet hip-width apart. Shift your weight onto your right leg. Take a slight step back with your left foot so that your left toes align with your right heel.
B. Slightly bend your right knee and lean forward at your hips, allowing your left leg to bend. Simultaneously lower your torso until it is parallel to the ground or until you feel a stretch in your right hamstring, while keeping your arms extended.
C. Activate your glutes and return to a standing position. This completes one repetition.
2. Hamstring Curl with Sliders
Why it is effective: This demanding exercise does not require any weight, but it continuously targets your hamstrings as you strive to extend your legs while keeping your hips at their maximum height.
A. Lie on your back on a smooth floor and place your feet on a pair of sliders, with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Rest your arms on the floor to your sides. Lift your hips and toes.
B. While keeping your hips off the floor at all times and engaging your abs, extend your right leg as far as possible, then bring it back to the starting position.
C. Extend your left leg as far as possible while keeping your hips raised and your core engaged, then bring it back to the starting position. This completes one repetition.
3. Romanian Deadlift
Why it is effective: The Romanian deadlift is a dual impact exercise. First, you’ll elongate your hamstring muscles as you lower the weights towards the ground. Then, you’ll strengthen your hamstrings by contracting the posterior part of your thighs as you stand up.
A. Stand firmly grasping medium to heavy dumbbells, with your arms dangling in front of your thighs, your palms facing inward, your feet the width of your hips apart, and your knees slightly flexed. Contract your shoulder blades downwards and towards each other, and engage your abdominal muscles to bring your spine to a neutral position.
B. While keeping your knees slightly bent, and maintaining a straight back and arms, pivot forward from your hips until you experience a slight tension in your hamstrings. Contract your glutes and hamstrings, straighten your body to assume an upright stance, and repeat the movement.
4. Hip Thrust
Why it is effective: Although the hip thrust predominantly targets the glute muscles, it also engages the hamstrings. Would you like to focus even more on your hamstrings? Take an extra step with your feet for increased engagement of the hamstring muscles.
A. Position yourself on the ground, with the center of your shoulder blades resting against a bench or box, your knees flexed, and your feet firmly planted on the ground, wider than the width of your hips. Place a medium or heavy dumbbell in the crease of your hips and grip it with both hands.
B. Ensure that your lower back remains flat, with your chin tucked and your gaze directed forward. Activate your glute muscles, push through your heels, and raise the dumbbell towards the ceiling by extending your hips until you reach the starting position. Your knees should align with your heels, bent at a 90-degree angle, and your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
C. Keep your lower back flat and your knees stable, gradually lower your hips until your buttocks hovers a few inches above the ground. Subsequently, push through your heels and gradually raise the dumbbell by extending your hips, ensuring that you utilize your glute and hamstring muscles rather than your back to execute the movement.
D. Continue lifting your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees, to return to the starting position. This completes one repetition.
5. Kettlebell Swing
Why it is effective: If you perform the kettlebell swing correctly, the majority of the effort should come from your lower body and core, which includes the hamstrings. The hamstrings contract as you pivot backwards and forwards to propel the kettlebell into the air.
A. Position yourself with your feet the width of your shoulders apart, your hands at your sides, and a kettlebell on the floor about one foot in front of your toes. Slightly bend your knees and hinge at your hips to lower your arms towards the floor.
Seize the handle of the kettlebell with both hands and slant it towards the body.
B. During an inhalation, hike the kettlebell back and up between the thighs. Then, on an exhalation, press the feet into the floor, squeeze the glutes, and drive through the hips to quickly rise up and explosively swing the kettlebell forward and up to the height of the chest. Keep the arms extended with a slight bend in the elbows throughout the movement and allow the gaze to follow the kettlebell.
C. Hinge at the hips, slightly bend the knees, and drive the kettlebell back down and in between the thighs. That is considered one repetition.
6. Morning Greeting
Why it works: Without any weight, the morning greeting is an ideal dynamic movement for stretching your hamstrings.
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, and knees softly bent. The hands should be either straight down, crossed over the chest, or resting on the back of the head (as shown).
B. Brace the midline and simultaneously hinge at the hips and push the buttocks straight back, keeping the lower legs perpendicular to the floor.
C. Maintaining a flat back, continue to lower the torso toward the floor until experiencing a stretch in the hamstrings or until the back begins to round.
D. Press into the feet and drive through the hips to reverse the movement, utilizing the hamstrings and core to stand upright. Squeeze the glutes at the top. That counts as one repetition.
7. Extended Glute Bridge
Why it works: Similar to the hip thrust, a regular glute bridge targets, well, your glutes. By walking the feet out just a bit farther, the hamstrings are compelled to be more engaged.
A. Lie faceup on the floor with bent knees, feet placed flat and hip-width apart, and arms at the sides, palms facedown. Take a step further out with each foot so that the heels are digging into the ground and the toes are pointed up at a 45-degree angle.
B. Keeping the core engaged and the tailbone tucked, exhale and slowly exert pressure through both heels to lift the hips off the floor. Lift the hips up as high as possible without allowing the lower back to arch.
C. Inhale and gently lower the hips back to the floor one vertebra at a time. That counts as one repetition.
8. Sumo Squat
Why it works: The sumo squat is crucial for strengthening the inner thighs, which are in close proximity to the hamstrings (and remember, if you want to strengthen a specific muscle group — such as the hamstrings — you need to allocate training time to the muscles around them to prevent muscle imbalance).
A. Hold two average dumbbells in front of the torso. Stand with feet slightly three to four inches wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out to a 45-degree angle. Arms should be fully extended with dumbbells below your navel.
B. On an inhale, sit back into hips and bend knees to lower until thighs are parallel or almost parallel with the floor, keeping chest up and preventing back from rounding.
C. On an exhale, press through feet to straighten legs and return to standing. That’s one repetition.
9. Split Squat
Why it works: Among all of these hamstring exercises, you’ll still need to train your quadriceps (aka the front of your thighs). Throw in these split squats as an alternate movement from the rest of your exercises for hamstrings.
A. Stand in a staggered stance with feet hip-width apart, right leg forward and left leg behind, left heel raised off the ground. Left knee should be in line with right heel when lowered; it might take a few tries to find the correct position for your body. Hold a pair of average dumbbells at sides.
B. Slowly lower down until left knee hovers just above the floor. Maintain a flat back and open chest by peeling shoulder blades back and engaging core.
C. Exhale and drive right foot into the ground to return to a standing position. That’s one repetition.
10. Prone Mini Band Hamstring Curl
Why it works: You don’t need a full hamstring curl machine to work your hamstrings. All you need for a challenging hamstring exercise is a mini-band and this alternative to hamstring curls.
A. Place a mini-band around left ankle and underneath the arch of the right foot. Lie facedown on the floor, legs extended, arms cushioning head.
B. Keeping the left leg anchored down, drive the right heel in toward glutes, stopping when the right ankle is directly above the right knee at a 90-degree angle.
C. With control, lower the right heel back down toward the ground and tap the right toes to the ground. That’s one repetition.