Turn Those Hams Into Boars.
When it comes to building up the legs many people focus on the quads the most. It is almost as if sometimes it is forgotten that the leg is comprised of a number of muscle groups. The leg is made up of the calves, quads, and hamstrings. It seems that most of the attention is given to the muscle group that you’d see most readily in the mirror. It’s not so farfetched as many beginners often focus on the parts they can see rather than the entire body as a whole. But if you want to have a symmetrical and aesthetic physique you’ll have to focus on every muscle group in the leg.
The hamstring is the antagonistic muscle to the quad, but doesn’t seem to get as much attention. The hamstrings are located on the back side of the body and therefore aren’t attacked nearly as much. But the hamstrings, along with the quad, are responsible for a variety of things. For one, hamstrings help stabilize the knee and can ultimately do wonders for knee pain. The hamstrings also give the leg that full, complete look. You wouldn’t want full, overdeveloped quads accompanied by lackluster, flat hamstrings.
So what are some exercises you should have in your leg day routine that can not only give you some great hamstrings, but strengthen your glutes as well? We’ve compiled a list of some great exercises that you should definitely add to your workout.
Good mornings are a killer hamstring exercise, and all you need is a barbell or EZ bar. This exercise is simple and effective. The good morning targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back as a whole. How do you do it?
Performing Good Mornings
Set up a loaded barbell in a power rack. Set the bar up and un-rack it just as if you were about to perform a barbell squat, then walk the bar out. Bend your knees slightly and hinge at the hips. Your chest and shoulders should be kept down. Hinge your body to the point where your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Squeeze your hamstrings and glutes to bring yourself back to a standing position. Then reset, and repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Lying Leg Curls
The lying leg curl is one of the staples of hamstring development. Favorited by one of the bodybuilders with the best lower halves, such as Tom Platz. This exercise may not be as taxing on the body as the other exercises on this list, but if utilized correctly with muscle contraction in mind then this one can be extremely beneficial for building your hammies. By using adequate weight you’ll be sure to feel the burn in the glutes and hamstrings.
Performing Lying Leg Curls
One thing you want to keep in mind is form. This is an isolation exercise for the hamstrings, so compromising form could incorporate other muscle groups and hinder your desired results. Make sure your upper body and hips are locked in, so the movement only comes from your hamstrings. This is the key to making this exercise more effective for growth and strength.
One thing you will want to avoid is going too light on the weight and too quickly on the curling part of the movement. You do not want to slam the pad into your glutes. You want a nice squeeze throughout the movement.
Lie face down on the leg curl machine with the back of your ankles underneath the pad. and place the hips down onto the pad. Curl the weight towards your glutes quickly, but controlled and then slowly lower on the eccentric, then pause at the bottom and repeat.
Glute Ham Raise
The glute ham raise exercise requires that your feet are secured. This can be by either having someone hold your feet down, or by hooking your heels under a weighted barbell or fixed apparatus. By doing the movement slowly and focusing on contraction of the glutes and hams, you’re sure to get a great pump from this exercise.
How to Perform The Glute Ham Raise
First, make sure your feet are secured, also make sure you have enough space to lower your torso. You are on your knees, which should be bent at 90 degrees. Your body is straight up. Then push your toes into whatever your feet are at, whether this is the ground or a GHR machine. Then extend your knees. Keep your arms folded across your body and slowly lower your torso forward until you are horizontal. Squeeze your hamstrings, and return to the starting position. Reset and repeat.
The Romanian deadlift is great for building up the hamstring and the glutes as well. They are ultimately a great choice for improving the posterior chain and are a great strength exercise to have in your routine. Seeing as how it’s a movement that focuses on strength more than anything else, keep the reps in the 5-8 rep range while being sure to go heavy.
The RDL, also referred to as “stiff leg deadlift” can be performed with a barbell, Smith Machine, or dumbbells. This gives you room to adapt to things like a crowded gym, limited equipment, or other roadblocks you may encounter with training.
Performing the Romanian Deadlift
Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Grip the barbell with double overhand grip in front of the thighs. You may want to use wrist straps if your grip strength is not the greatest, or you are going heavy. Keep your chest up and shoulders down. Hinge at the hips until the barbell is just below your knees. Always keep the barbell close to your body. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to hinge back to a standing position. From there, reset and repeat the movement.
For an extra stretch, you can elevate your toes while performing this movement. In order to do this, you can put your toes on a weight or other surface.
There are numerous exercises to kill your hamstrings, this article only touches the surface. Now that we have gone through four of our favorite hamstring exercises, what are some other ones that you can incorporate that did not quite make the cut?
Seated Hamstring Curl
Much like the lying hamstring curl, this is essentially the same movement. The only difference is you are sitting with the pad below your knees, and curling your legs under you. This is also an isolation movement for the hamstrings, so you do not want to go too heavy to the point where form is compromised.
If you are fortunate enough to attend a gym with a reverse hyperextension machine, do not ignore it on your leg days. You can also utilize a flat bench to perform this as well.
Lay your torso flat, chest down on the machine or bench, with your hips and legs off the edge. Brace your core and straighten your legs out behind you, like you are superman flying in the air.
Flex the muscles in your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back to raise your legs from below your hip line to above the hips. At the top, hold the position before slowly lowering your legs back down. The movement is almost like a lying leg curl, but your legs dangle off the side and you raise them in a straight manner rather than bending at the knees.
For Visual demonstration, check out this video from Rogue Fitness:
Now that we have established some great exercises to build your hamstrings, let’s address some questions you may have.
How Often Should I Train Hamstrings?
This can depend on a few things! Generally, it is recommended to train each muscle 2x per week. So, if you hit legs twice a week, then don’t be afraid to hit hamstrings in each of those leg days. But, if you separate hitting your quads from hamstrings and glutes, then there are a few things you can do with that.
If you have a designated quad day and hamstring/glute day, then you can hit hamstrings once a week. You can also throw in one or two light hamstring exercises on your quad day, making it more quad focused, but not necessarily only quads.
How Many Exercises Should I Do for Hamstrings?
How many exercises all depends on your goals! If you are doing a hamstring dominant leg day, then maybe 3-4 exercises could be optimal. On the other hand, if you throw hamstrings in with quads, then 1-3 exercises for hamstrings is also an option.
Just an an overview, these were some of our favorite exercises to really buildup your hamstrings! Don’t forget to do hamstrings when training lower body. Also, don’t limit yourself to the same exercises where you start just going through the motions within your workout.
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Anatomy, bony pelvis and lower limb, hamstring muscle. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546688/
Hamstring muscles: Location, anatomy & function. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/21904-hamstring-muscles#:~:text=Your%20hamstring%20muscles%20play%20a,of%20quick%20stops%20and%20starts.