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Fact checked by Garett Reid, NSCA, CSCS, CISSN, M.S.E.S.SFACT CHECKED
December 24, 2021
Whether your hammies are weak and underdeveloped or you are simply looking for new exercises to keep things fresh and take your hamstring workouts to the next level, look no further. This is the ultimate resource for hamstring exercises and workouts.
First, we will cover everything you need to know about the hamstrings, which includes the anatomy, function, and importance of strong hamstrings. Then, we will go over how to strengthen and build up your hamstrings so you can be a better athlete and all-around beast of a human.
We have 23 hamstring exercises for you, which probably seems like way too many, but this is because we include barbell, dumbbell, bodyweight, resistance band, and kettlebell hamstring exercises. We even have the best hamstring exercises specifically for injury prevention (with studies to prove it). With all that, you can train your hamstrings for strength, muscle mass, endurance, and injury resilience no matter where you are and what equipment you have.
The hamstrings are the muscles of the posterior thigh. They run from the sitting bone of the hips all the way down to the backbend of the knee. They are a group of three biarticular muscles (meaning the muscles cross two joints): the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris.
If you want to build some mind-muscle connection real quick, simply bend over with your legs straight and try to touch your toes. The tension you feel in the back of your legs is your hamstring muscle group.
As the hamstrings cross two joints (biarticular muscles), their functions relate to both the knee and hip.
Here are some of the main functions of the hamstrings:
As the hamstrings act on two joints, hamstring exercises can be based on hip extension, knee flexion or a hybrid of both hip extension and knee flexion.
With hip extension hamstring exercises, your hamstrings work with your glutes to push your thigh bones from a flexed position to an extended position.
Examples of this are stiff legged deadlifts and good mornings.
Hamstring knee flexion exercises mainly act on the knees. These are typically easier exercises to perform.
An example of a hamstring knee flexion movement is machine leg curls.
Hip Extension/Knee Flexion
As you can probably guess, hip extension and knee flexion based movements act on both joints. These exercises can be somewhat complex. They are great for athletes as they mimic sports and real-life movements to a higher degree.
Examples of hip extension/knee flexion hamstring exercises are hip thrusts, glute ham raises, and Swiss ball leg curls. Deadlifts also act on both the hips and knees.
Study: For hip extension/knee flexion exercises from a prone position (i.e. barbell hip thrusts), putting your hips at a 0-degree angle (neutral) will target your hamstrings greater. If you want to target your glutes, you’d go for a 15-degree or 30-degree hip abduction. In other words, keep your legs straight and hip-width apart for better hamstring activation or spread your legs a little for more glute activation.
While strong hamstrings are incredibly important for athletes and people who lift weights, they aren’t the only ones who will benefit from strengthening their hamstrings. Everyone should aim to have strong hamstrings. Strong hamstrings are essential for a better quality of life.
Let’s discuss, with brevity, the benefits of strong hamstrings:
All in all, strong hamstrings help you move better, faster and more explosively, while also helping you prevent injuries. They are a key muscle group to a healthy and long life. If longevity is top of mind, then your hamstrings should be too.
Everyone should work on developing stronger hamstring. After all, every human who can stand on two feet uses their hamstrings day in and day out.
That being said, the following demographics will benefit greatly from having rock-solid, powerful hamstrings:
For athletes, it will improve their sports performance on all fronts.
For those who lift weights, training your hamstrings properly will make you stronger. You won’t be hitting any PRs without upping your hamstring game. It will also make you look better. Beefy legs with ripped hamstrings looks grrrreat, for a lack of better words.
For those over 50, strengthening your hamstrings will allow you to continue moving well, standing up straight, and fighting off injuries as you age.
All in all, the hamstrings are one of the most important muscle groups to train, especially for athletes. They transfer power through the knees and hips, enabling you to control your athletic performance. Moreover, they help us reduce the chance of injury. Hamstring strains are the most common type of sports injury. One of the best ways to prevent hamstring strains is to strengthen your hamstrings! So, for all those who focus heavily on the quads, let’s not forget about our friends in the back…
The biggest issue with weak hamstrings is that you have a high risk of knee and hamstring injury.
For many people, their hamstrings are weaker than their quadriceps. This muscle imbalance often causes injuries as well, such as ACL tears!
What’s more, hamstrings stabilize the hips, keeping the spine properly aligned. Many lower back issues stem from weak hamstrings.
Beyond that, your entire body works as one unit when moving, so weak hamstrings will affect your entire body musculature, leading to overall poor athletic performance.
There are a few signs that tell you your hamstrings are weak as hell.
One of the best ways to test for weak hamstrings is the Glute Ham Raise. If you can perform one of these without any assistance, you can be sure your hamstrings have average or above-average strength. If you can’t, it’s time to strengthen those hamstring!
Glute Ham Raise
There are a few common causes of weak hamstring:
Good news for those who have weak hamstrings - you can make them stronger! Use the hamstring exercises below to make that happen!
If you have access to a barbell and plates, there are no better movements for developing mass in your hamstrings than the first four exercises. Why? Because you can create heavier loads and progressive overload as you get strong using barbells and weighted plates better than any other training equipment.
Dumbbells, which we run through after, are definitely a top choice too...
Related: Stiff-Leg Deadlift Exercise Guide
Related: Deadlift Exercise Guide
Related: Good Morning Exercise Guide & Variations
Note: For greater activation of the hamstrings, keep your knees in line with your hips. The wider the stance, the more glute activation you will get.
Related: RDL Exercise Guide
Related: Single Leg Deadlift Guide
Kettlebells are particularly effective for targeting the posterior chain, muscle groups like the hamstrings, as there are a lot of ways to hit the muscle group, both in traditional ways (grinds like barbell/dumbell exercises) and unconventional ways (ballistics like Kettlebell Swings).
Have a look at several kettlebell hamstring exercises that will build mass and strength:
Kettlebell swings are a total body workout that increases muscle endurance. Do enough kettlebell swings and your hamstrings will be screaming for mercy.
How to: Place a kettlebell about 1.5-2 feet in front of your feet. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, then pull your shoulder blades together and chest out, brace your core and tilt your hips back and put a little bend in your knees. From there, grab the kettlebell with both hands, hold it overhand (palms facing in). Lift the kettlebell off the floor and swing it between your legs. When your hands pass by your inner thighs, thrust your hips forward and bring the kettlebell up to eye level. From there, allow the kettlebell to swing back down between your legs, while maintaining your chest up and shoulder blades retracted, and fall back into your posterior tilt. Once your hands reach your inner thighs, swing it back through and up again and repeat.
Best rep range: 20 swings
Variation 1: One handed swings
Variation 2: Alternating hands with each swing (once it reaches eye level switch hands)
Of course, you can also increase the difficulty by using a heavier kettlebell and still using two hands.
This is a great exercise that kills two birds with one stone. You will hit your hamstring while also working your core strength and stability.
How to: Place a kettlebell at your front and center. In your regular stiff legged stance/form, grab the kettlebell and pull it up with one hand. From there, you will be using only one leg. Lean forward, without rolling your back, and lower the kettlebell to the floor using only one hand. The leg opposite to the hand the kettlebell is in will be the working leg, so the leg that is on the same side as the kettlebell will move up and back so that when the kettlebell reaches the near the floor, your back is in line with your leg. From there, come back up into position. Be sure to contract your hamstrings to help you come back up. Repeat on the same side for a set number of reps. If you have balance issues, let the foot that is moving backward touch the floor when you get to the standing position, rather than leaving it off the ground the entire time. The exercise will still be just as effective.
Note: Your knee should have a slight bend in it as you lower down the kettlebell. Also, move slowly as you lower the kettlebell, feel the burn.
Best rep range: 10-12 reps each side
The kettlebell sumo deadlift can build a lot of strength and mass, especially if you use a heavy kettlebell or two. This exercise targets the entire posterior chain - glutes, hamstrings and lower back. It also works your deltoids, traps and upper back.
How to: Place two kettlebells between your legs and get in a wide stance, about one foot more than shoulder width on each side. Keep your chest up and your shoulder blades retracted. Aim to keep a neutral spine. Squat down until your hands reach the kettlebell handles, overhand grip. Using your hamstrings and glutes, pull the kettlebells up in a direct line as you stand tall. Once you reach a standing position, slowly lower them back down to the floor (don’t just drop the kettlebells down quickly, feel the eccentric contraction). Repeat.
Best rep range: 10 reps (depends on how heavy the kettlebell is - if it is a really heavy kettlebell for you, fewer reps will be good, even as low as 5).
Here are some great hamstring exercises that you can do at home (and at the gym of course too). We will start with bodyweight movements for hamstrings, then we will show you a couple of other movements that you can do with some common home gym equipment, such as a swiss ball and resistance bands.
This is a great exercise for your hamstrings, glutes and the entire posterior chain. To do this exercise, get into a glute bridge, then slowly walk your feet out, with very short and controlled steps forward. Then return them back with the same short choppy steps. Make sure you keep tension and focus on your hamstrings for the entire movement. Note: if you spread your legs or bring your feet closer together, you will target your hamstrings differently.
This exercise is typically effective when done for sets of 30-60 seconds.
The lateral lunge is an important exercise as it is an everyday functional movement. It hits the hamstrings particularly well, and it also will work the quads and glutes. To do this exercise, step out to either side, keep your toes pointing straight forward and your feet flat to the ground. Squat down to parallel or as low as you can. The goal is to keep your knee and toe aligned. Your extended leg should be straight. Then press back up and repeat on the opposite side (or you can also do one side at a time then the other side after too).
Best rep range: 10-15 (each side)
This is a glute and hamstring exercise. To do this exercise, get down with your knees and hands on the ground. Keep one knee/foot down with your toes on the floor and then raise the other leg using your hamstrings and your glutes. Hold for 3-5 seconds then slowly lower down and repeat. The goal is to maintain tension the entire movement. Holding the position at the top adds to the difficulty and the effectiveness of the exercise. It’s a hybrid isometric and concentric-eccentric movement.
Note: You can also do this exercise standing up straight, holding a chair for balance.
Best rep range: 10-15 reps (about 1 min - each leg)
The primary movers for this exercise are your glutes and hamstrings. It is a variation of the glute bridge. So once you get into the glute bridge position, bring one leg’s knee over your centerline and hold the top position for a couple of seconds then slowly return to the glute bridge and repeat. You can focus on one side at a time or alternate sides.
Best rep range: 10-15 reps
Although butt kicks are mainly considered a cardiovascular exercise, they also do a great job of strengthening your hamstrings. They target the hamstrings in a way that increases the fast-twitch muscle response. It is an excellent exercise for developing optimal running performance and preventing injuries. To do this exercise, stand tall and bring your heel off the ground towards your glutes, while the opposite hand comes up towards your side like it would with a sprint. Immediately switch sides and continue this pattern for a set amount of reps or time without stopping. Note: Your thighs should not be moving as you lift your heels. Also, don’t worry if your heels don’t touch your glutes, aim to get them closer to your glutes as you progress. Moreover, try to increase speed as you go too.
Best rep range: 30 seconds to 1 minute
Jumping lunges are a total lower body exercise. They target your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. Because you will be exploding up with each rep, your hamstrings and glutes will be working overtime. To do this exercise, get into a lunge position, then explode up and jump so that you land in a lunge position on the opposite side. As you jump up, let your arms swing up and as you come down, bring them down to your side. This will give you momentum and it helps with balance.
Best rep range: 20 reps
Tuck jumps are an absolutely brutal exercise. They are one of the best HIIT moves. It is full body conditioning. As you will be jumping high, it becomes a bodyweight strengthening exercise too. It will target your glutes, quads and hamstrings very well. And you will immediately feel this after a few reps. To do this exercise, squat down then jump up as high as you can while simultaneously bringing your knees towards your chest. When you land, using the momentum to lower down and jump back up. Don’t land stiffly. Let the movement be explosive and fluid.
Best rep range: 8-10 reps (if that’s too much for you, start with sets of 5 reps)
This is a great plyometric exercise that targets in on the hamstrings, glutes and calves very nicely. Of course, it also improves balance, coordination, explosiveness and cardiovascular health. To do this exercise, bring your chest forward and your right arm in front of your chest (helps with balance) and your left arm bent to your side. Your lead leg and arm should perform a counter-movement inward, shift your weight to your outer hip. Then, jump to your right side, as far as you can (use your arms and hips to accelerate and produce max force). Land lightly on your right leg, hold the position. Your left leg should be on the ground with your other leg up in the air behind it and your left arm should be in front of your chest with your right arm to your side. Repeat by jumping to the opposite side with the same form. Continue this movement for a set number of reps. Note: If you lose balance, don’t worry, just get back into position and continue.
Best rep range: 20 total reps (10 to each side)
Related: 26 Bodyweight Leg Exercises (Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)
This exercise is killer for the hamstrings. It works your hamstrings in knee flexion and hip extension. Remember to keep your heels in and hips up and hold at peak contraction.
Best rep range 12-15 reps
Related: 9 Best Leg Curl Machine Alternatives
This is another knee flexion and hip extension hybrid exercise. All you’ll need is a towel for this or a smooth surface and socks. If you have sliders, those will work even better. Assuming you have a towel, place it under your heels (you’ll need a smooth ground surface). Get into a glute bridge, and slide your heels towards your glutes, hold the contraction, then slide them back out so your legs are bent at about 150-degrees. Then slide them back towards your glutes, hold, repeat. This is a major hamstring pump, so be ready for a serious challenge (if you do it right that is!)
Rep range: 10-15 reps.
The following resistance band hamstring exercises are great for:
This is a very difficult exercise so the band will help give you the assistance you need to perform this exercise if you lack the strength. Start with a larger band (like our gray or green band) then progress to our lighter bands as you gain strength.
Watch the video below to learn how to set up for this exercise and how to perform the exercise correctly so that you target your hamstrings effectively.
This exercise is going to help you become more explosive and it’s going to help your hamstrings become more resilient to injury.
Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps if adding it into a workout. For a warm-up, you can do 1 to 2 sets of 5-10 reps.
Here is a single leg banded good morning. This exercise requires good balance so you can practice it without the bands first and then work your way up from a lighter band to a heavier band like the green or gray SET FOR SET band. If you are familiar with this kind of movement, you can jump right into a green band, which should provide a good amount of resistance to hit your hamstrings nicely.
Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps if adding it into a workout. For a warm up, you can do one to 2 sets of 5-10 reps.
The standing banded hip thrust is the last exercise in the video below. This exercise targets the glutes, but it also works the hamstrings. As your hips and glutes work together during explosive movements like sprinting, it’s important to hit both equally. You want to train your hamstrings to work with your glutes. So this exercise is great for that. As for what resistance band size for hip thrusts, we recommend the blue or green depending on your strength. Make sure you squeeze tight and hold as stand tall, then slowly return back in a very controlled manner so you can hit your hamstrings with some eccentric contraction.
Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps if adding it into a workout. For a warm up, you can do one to 2 sets of 8-10 reps.
Related: Standing Cable Machine Pull Throughs
See the 3 resistance band hamstring exercises above in action:
There are a few ways to program hamstring exercises into your training regimen.
You can add them to your leg/lower body day. Aim to do an equal amount of quad, glute and hamstring exercises. If you go hard on your quads, you better be going hard on the rest of your lower body too.
You can have a posterior day, where you train your entire posterior chain. If you do this, you can train posterior chain one day, then anterior chain the next.
If you do full body workouts, be sure to get your hamstring exercises in each day. If you do one exercise for each muscle group per workout, and you do 4 workouts a week, do a different hamstring exercise each day. Moreover, do the most effective ones. Such as deadlifts, nordic ham curls, good mornings.
For any of the above, stick to the same hamstring exercises each week so you can progress/progressive overload. Switch up your routine every couple of months. At a minimum, you can switch things up every 4 weeks. But we recommend 6-12 weeks of the same routine.
And don't forget to wrap up each of your workouts with some great hamstring stretches!
Prepare to maximize your gains with our exclusive 12-week hypertrophy training program. Choose between a 4 or 5 day training split and gain 2-12 pounds of muscle over 90 days...
GYM ACCESS - Lower Body Day:
Warm Up: 10 mins
Exercise 1: BB Stiff Legged Deadlifts - 4 sets x 12 reps
Exercise 2: BB Back Squats - 4 x 8 reps
Exercise 3: BB Split Squats - 3 x 10-12 reps (each side)
Exercise 4: Swiss Ball Leg Curls - 3 x 12 reps
Exercise 5: Single Leg Leg Press - 3 x high reps, burn out (each side)
Exercise 6: Standing Calf Raise - 3 x 20 reps
Cool Down: Gentle Static Stretching
Use weight loads that are challenging. If your goal is hypertrophy, rest time should be about 90 seconds after each set. If strength is your goal, 2-4 mins, and use heavier loads. You can lower the rep count a bit as well for strength training (i.e. 8 reps to 5 reps, 12 rep exercises to 8-10 reps).
Home Workout - Full Body, Bodyweight Only:
Warm up: 5-10 mins
Exercise 1: Air Squats - 3 sets x 25 reps
Exercise 2: Jumping Lunges - 3 x 20 reps
Exercise 3: Glute Hamstring Walkouts - 3 x 45 seconds
Exercise 4: Push Ups - 3 x 25 reps
Exercise 5: Pull Ups - 3 x max reps
Exercise 6: Handstands - 3 x max holds
Exercise 7: Mountain Climbers - 3 x 30 seconds
Exercise 8: Leg up Crunches - 3 x 15 reps
Cool Down: Gentle Static Stretching
Home Workout - Posterior Chain with Home Workout Equipment:
Warm up: 5-10 mins
1A: Kettlebell Swings - 3 sets x 15 reps
1B: Resistance Band Deadlifts - 3 sets x 12 reps
2A: Pull Ups (can use bands for assistance if needed) 3 sets x 8-12 reps
2B: Resistance Band Hip Thrusts 3 x 10-12 reps
3A: Kettlebell Good Mornings - 2 sets x 10 reps
3B: Nordic Ham Curls (use bands for assistance if needed) - 2 sets x 8-10 reps
4A: Kettlebell Bent Over Rows - 2 sets x 12 reps
4B: Resistance Band Rows (very slow eccentric phase) - 2 sets x 12 reps
Cool Down: Gentle Static Stretching
These are just a few workout examples. There are so many different methods for creating a workout. While you can use the above workouts for an intense workout, you can also just discern how well rounded each of the workouts are and then create your own based on the tools you have access to and the exercises you want to do.
In any case, no muscles should be left behind for each specific workout goal.
Let’s dig more into the importance of strengthening the hamstring for athletes and how to do so, with proven studies at our fingertips.
As we’ve already discussed, the hamstrings are very vulnerable to injury and strain. This is particularly true among athletes, sprinters, and endurance athletes like cyclists.
Unfortunately, injuries to the hamstrings often result in a long road to recovery, and there is even a chance of long term damage or consequential injuries.
To prevent this, athletes must train their hamstrings for strength and flexibility.
One of the best ways to strengthen the hamstrings for injury resilience is with eccentric hamstring exercises.
Eccentric exercises refer to a movement that lengthens the muscle as it contracts. In other words, it is the part of the movement when you are lowering the weight. The downward force. Negative training.
An example of an eccentric hamstring exercise is the downward motion of a stiff-legged deadlift.
Now, in most cases, you can’t do eccentric lifts without concentric too. So the focus of an eccentric exercise is to spend more time in the eccentric portion of the lift. i.e. 4 seconds down (eccentric), then 1 second up (concentric). That being said, there are ways to do an exercise so that you are only doing the eccentric portion of a lift, but this typically involves 1 rep training with very heavy loads. Another way to train with eccentric loads is to use auxiliary tools like resistance bands and releasers or to have assistance from a partner for the upward motion of the movement. We won’t go into detail on all the ways to do eccentric exercises in this post, but we will discuss the benefits of eccentric exercises for the hamstring and then show you how to do a couple of crucial eccentric hamstring exercises.
There have been a lot of studies that show eccentric training builds muscle size and strength in a more superior way than concentric-eccentric movements. When you focus on the downward force, you can employ heavier weights than you would with concentric-eccentric exercises. Your body is can manage more weight in the downward motion than the upward motion.
Now, in terms of rehabilitation and physical therapy, eccentric exercises are often the go-to choice for regaining strength. This is because they create more force with less energy and they are less liable to overtax injured joints and muscles. This is an incredibly valuable way to train athletes coming off an injury or those who want to gain strength with less risk and stress on the joints and muscles…Moreover, it is a smart method for elderly people who may not have the physical capacity for standard eccentric-concentric exercises.
The same applies to prehabilitation. Athletes often use eccentric exercises to develop more strength and stability, which makes their muscles more resilient to injury.
Note: Eccentric contractions exercises are more likely to cause DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) as microtears develop when the contracted muscle lengthens.
All that being said, eccentric training isn’t the only way you should train. It is simply one protocol to add to your regimen. Furthermore, eccentric exercises with heavy weights should be limited. If you go over your capacity, you can end up with joint injuries just the same as you can with standard concentric-eccentric lifting.
When athletes and sprinters, or anyone for that matter, go from standing still to sprinting in an instant, the hamstring fire eccentrically. So, we need to prepare our hamstrings for this eccentric force
Studies have proven that eccentric hamstring exercises, both as part of training and during warm-ups help prevent the ever-concerning hamstring strain.
Study 1: "Programmes that include the NHE reduce hamstring injuries by up to 51%. The NHE essentially halves the rate of hamstring injuries across multiple sports in different athletes."
Study on Nordic Hamstring Curls Sports Performance:
"In the study, two hamstring strength training programmes were compared. One programme included traditional hamstring curls (concentric training) whereas the other (Nordic hamstrings) was a partner exercise focusing on the eccentric phase. The study showed that it is possible to significantly increase the eccentric torque in well trained soccer players during a 10 week training programme focusing on eccentric strength training. No significant change in strength was seen in the group focusing on concentric training."
This is a fantastic exercise for improving the capacity of the hamstring muscles to produce and withstand force during explosive movements like sprints.
Assisted Resistance Band Nordic Hamstring Curls are also a good option as they allow you to progressively strengthen your hamstrings by using lighter and lighter bands as you develop more strength.
Related: The Definitive Guide to Nordic Hamstring Curls (Setups, Variations, Progressions, and more)
With all of these exercises, remember to move slowly and controlled as you lower (eccentric phase), then move quicker, yet still in a controlled manner, on the way up (concentric phase). The tempo should be about 4 to 1 seconds (4 seconds down, 1 second up).
If you have a pulled hamstring, you are probably looking for a way to recover as quickly as possible.
How fast you will recover depends on what grade your pulled hamstring is. There’s grade 1 to grade 3. Grade 1 is a mild injury that heals within 3 days to 3 weeks, while grade 2 and grade 3 hamstring injuries can take months to heal.
In any case, rest until your hamstring feels better and you are moving normally, then start light. Do not just jump right back into your regular training regimen. The same applies to running. Take things down a few notches on the track.
As for weight training, we recommend doing the bodyweight and resistance band hamstring exercises we went over above to rehabilitate and get your strength back up and your hamstring primed for weightlifting again.
Light stretching is also good for speeding up recovery.
Gentle strength training and gentle stretching afterward is key to rehabilitation and avoiding chronic hamstring tightness
Related: Best stretching exercises for legs using resistance bands
While the hamstrings are very important for all around sports performance and creating a powerful, well-built body, they are no more important than any other large muscle group. They are just often the ones that don’t get as much attention. So, the point is, train your hamstrings as much as you train your chest, quads, glutes and abs. Your body works together as one unit. Don’t let your hamstrings be the group that drags you down.
Moreover, as your hamstrings and glutes work together all the time, you will want to train them equally so one doesn’t compensate for the other. Focus on just as many hamstring dominate exercises as you do glutes.
Contact us or leave a comment below with any questions you have about hamstring exercises.
More Posterior Chain Exercises:
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June 08, 2023
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