Your hamstrings are one of the most important muscles in your body. Even though they aren’t generally considered “show muscles”, what they lack in glamour, they make up for in efficiency.
If leg training is something you often neglect then you should pay special attention to your hamstring muscles when next you visit the gym or in your home workouts. This article will help get you started.
Before we go headlong into the various hamstring exercises for beefier well-sculpted legs, let’s quickly look at the perks of having strong hamstrings as well as the risks you face if you ignore them.
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The Benefits of Strong Hamstrings
With strengthened hamstrings, you’ll find that your overall athleticism will increase. You’ll find it easy to jump higher and your ability to accumulate speed while running will also be on the up. You’d also see your acceleration game step up a few notches – all thanks to powerful hamstrings.
Don’t take my word for it. Take a look into any elite sprinters training regime and you’ll find that it is heavily focused on hamstring strength, flexibility and mobility. Usain Bolt wouldn’t be a world legend without those great hamstrings of his.
Note from coach Liam Coultman of startrowing.com:
Strong hamstrings are essential for athletic performance not just in the sense of physical attributes, ability and skill but also highly beneficial for mobility and preventative injury. Effective training means you won’t be so prone to hamstring injuries which can help increase the longevity of your training and sporting endeavours.
Strong hamstrings can also promote general health and proper function of movement. For example, they can help you maintain good posture and ensure proper body alignment.
The Risks of Weak Hamstrings
Hamstring injuries can be the stuff of nightmares – and your risk of injury is heightened if you don’t train them enough.
Many people who work their leg muscles tend to focus on the quads at the expense of their hamstrings. Of course, your quads (the muscle group in front of the thighs) need to be trained also but with over-dominant quads, you could be setting yourself up for knee injuries if the strength gap is excessive.
Since we spend a large amount of time sitting on our glutes every day, the inactivity can tighten our hamstrings, contributing to lower back aches and pains. And of course, since strong hams can improve your posture, can you guess what weak hammies can lead to? You get the drift.
So what can you do to get some stalwart hamstrings? Let’s begin by stretching those muscles.
When prepping your muscles for the workout of the day, you should take it easy regardless of the warm-up exercise you choose to do. Remember it’s a pre-workout exercise, so don’t weaken your hamstrings before the actual workout. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons confirms that muscle fatigue is a primary contributor to hamstring injuries.
For your warm-up, opt for a series of dynamic stretches rather than static ones. According to the American Council on Exercise, static stretches send relaxation signals to your muscles instead of gearing them for action. With a few butt kicks, aeroplanes, and eccentric sliding leg curls, your hamstrings should be adequately fired up for the business of the day.
List Of Best Bodyweight Hamstring Exercises
Now for the main reason why you’re here – I have compiled seven of the best hamstring strengthening exercises that you should add to your leg workout routine. A vast majority of leg exercises hit the glutes and quads with minimal effects on the hams, but these seven workouts target the hamstring muscles adequately. Let’s dive in.
1. Bulgarian Split Squat
You might be wondering why the Bulgarian split squat is on this list. Relax. There are essentially two variations of this squat – one emphasises your quads while the other targets your hamstrings and glutes. The position of your foot is the determining factor. If you place your foot closer to the elevated platform, you’re focusing on your quads; if it is further from the platform, you’ll be hitting your hamstrings more.
Also, when bending the knee, ensure that you stop once your thigh is parallel to the floor – this hits the hamstrings more.
Start by standing shoulder-width apart in front of the elevated surface. Next, raise one leg behind you, place it on the platform, and then bend the knee. Use the other foot to push yourself up to the standing position. Do as many reps as desired on one leg, and then switch to the other leg.
2. Sumo Squat
Here is another one that puts pressure on your back thigh muscles. Ensure your feet are wider apart than your shoulders, ready your core, and straighten your back. Begin the routine like you want to sit. Go down as far as possible without excessively arching your back or closing up your knees.
Make sure your hips go below your knees’ height before returning to the starting position. Do your desired number of reps.
3. Walking Lunges
Asides beefing up your leg muscles, walking lunges also hit the hips, glutes, as well as your core. Start by standing upright, ensuring your feet are shoulder-width apart. Take a long stride forward with one of your legs, and then bend the knee till it is parallel to the ground. Take a breather.
Now bring the other leg forward, keeping the first leg static. Repeat the same routine with the second leg, and keep alternating the legs as you “walk” forward.
4. Nordic Hamstring Curls
Start with a kneeling position, and straighten your back. If you don’t have a partner to help hold your ankles in place, you can use a couch or any other thing that is a little higher than the ground. While maintaining a straight back, lean to the front slowly all the way to the ground. Contract your hamstrings while raising your body back to the initial position. Repeat!
5. Sliding Leg Curls
The sliding leg curls should be easy to do if it is carried out on a smooth floor. Place a slider, a folded towel, a sock, paper plate, or any other thing that can slide smoothly on the floor. Lie down straight facing up, arms by the side, and place your heels on the slider with your legs bent.
Now lift your hips and slide one or both feet forward. Maintain the tension and slide your foot (or feet) back to the beginning position. Do as many reps as you desire.
6. Back Extension
Yes, it helps with your back muscles, but it also works the hamstrings while you’re stretching your back, especially if you do the Superman variation of the back extension.
Lie face down with your legs straightened. Stretch your arms forward while relaxing your neck and ensuring that the spine and neck are parallel.
Lift your arms about an inch or two off the ground, raising your chest as well. Raise your legs at the same time at around the same height with your arms. Keep the body tension for about 5 – 10 seconds (or more if you can), then lower your arms and legs.
7. Swiss-Ball Leg Curl
Pump your hammies with this invaluable exercise. Lie down face-up with arms by the side. Next, place both feet on the Swiss-ball, making sure your hips are raised, and your legs are totally straightened. Then, roll the ball inwards with your heels and roll it back out. Repeat!
If you’re up for it, you can do a more challenging variation by curling one leg at a time instead of both legs.
Check out this list for even more exercise examples.
An Example Workout Targeting Your Hamstrings
Depending on your experience and fitness level, you can combine 3 or more of the following exercises to create your own workout.
Alternatively, you can take selected exercises and add them to any current program you are already doing.
Bulgarian Split Squat:
- Experienced: 3-5 sets of 12 reps and more
- Beginners: 2 sets of 6-8 reps
- Experienced: 4-5 sets of 15-20 repetitions and above
- Beginner: 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
- Experienced: 5 sets of 10 reps per leg and above
- Beginner: 2-3 sets of 10 reps per leg
Nordic Hamstring Curls:
- Experienced: 5 sets of 8 reps and more
- Beginner: 3 sets of 5 reps
Sliding Leg Curls:
- Experienced: 4 sets of 10 reps and above
- Beginner: 2 sets of 10 reps
- Experienced: 4 sets of 10-16 repetitions and more
- Beginner: 2 sets of 10-16 repetitions
Swiss Ball Leg Curl:
- Experienced: 1-2 sets of as many as possible reps
- Beginner: 1 set of 20 reps
Over To You!
You can avoid one of the most common muscle injuries by adding the exercises described in this post to your leg workout plan. Your body posture is also set to be properly aligned when you engage your hamstrings with these routines. Give your hammies a boost today with these exercises and make them a staple of your training going forward. You’ll thank yourself later!
Founder of www.calisthenics-101.co.uk. Training calisthenics since 2012.
Currently working on: 30 second one-arm handstand, muscle-up 360, straddle planche.