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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
Updated On: July 31, 2023
The glutes and hamstrings are primary force producers for locomotion in the human body. In fact, the glutes are one of the distinguishing features of human beings and set us apart from apes by allowing us to walk bipedally.
Sitting on the posterior of your body, they are essential for both performance and aesthetics. That means that you're setting yourself up for injury when you don't train these muscles properly for strength, size, and power, particularly if you're an athlete.
For these reasons, I'm sharing my favorite glute and hamstring exercises with you to keep you healthy, strong, and looking great. And just because you can't see your rear doesn't mean others can't -give 'em something good to look at.
Table of Contents:
Your gluteal muscles are a group of three different muscles collectively known as the glutes. Those muscles are:
Located at the hips on the back of your body, your glutes are of vast importance as they're the strongest muscle in the human body and are the muscle responsible for locomotion.
The glutes are primarily responsible for manipulating the hips to maneuver the body. Specifically, your glutes power the hip hinge, arguably the most essential movement pattern in athleticism.
Your hamstrings are a set of 3 muscles that sit on the posterior of the upper leg between the glutes and knees. These three muscles are the following:
If we put the glutes to the side for a minute, the primary function of the hamstring muscles is to flex the knee, which is why leg curls hurt so good.
However, the hamstrings also cross the hip joint, making them another critical muscle involved with hip extension.
Within performance, the hamstring muscles play a significant role in running and, unfortunately, injuries. In the world of athletics, hamstring injuries are all too common due to the excessive amount of stress placed on them.
Now that we know where the glutes and hamstrings are located on the body, in addition to their primary functions, it's time to get right into it in the heart of this article by going over the best hamstring and glute exercises.
And since we want to go over the very best hamstring AND glute exercises, to save time, I'm bringing you the best options to train both simultaneously!
The first exercise on the list is going to be the Romanian deadlift.
While the conventional deadlift is also on my best glute-and-hammy list, many people can better target their glutes and hamstrings with the Romanian deadlift, thanks to the starting position. Since it starts at the hips, it requires an eccentric contraction to help the weight drop in a slow and controlled manner, cueing those muscles to activate under tension.
An eccentric contraction occurs when muscle fibers actively get longer and stretch, most often when resisting motion, such as the "down" part of an RDL. Research has discovered that the eccentric phase of a movement has a more significant effect on muscle damage.
That's why one of the most common cues for a proper Romanian deadlift is to "load" the hamstrings as you descend. Doing so supports a stronger mind-muscle connection and emphasizes correct form.
Pro Tip: I prefer to use a barbell when I do heavier loads and just grab some dumbbells for lighter loads, but you can do either. Regardless of what you use, the form will be the same.
How to do the Romanian Deadlift:
Deadlifts are the heaviest barbell exercise you can do, period. As a result, they're going to put immense stress on your glutes and hamstrings. And as an added bonus, they're also going to work your upper body.
The main difference between the deadlift and squat is that the deadlift is a pure hip hinge, placing a focus on your posterior muscles. When you look at the deadlift, you notice that the knees don't move (or they shouldn't).
All of the force comes from driving your hips forward through the glutes and hamstrings.
How to do the Deadlift:
Low bar or high bar squat? Why not both?
If we absolutely had to choose one to target the glutes and hamstrings, however, it would be the low bar squat. Due to the barbell sitting low on your back across your shoulder blades, you'll need more hip flexion to keep the weight centered over your feet while squatting.
Since you're naturally going into greater hip flexion on the way down, you'll also need more extension on the ascent. This means more work from the glutes and hamstrings.
How to do the Low Barbell Back Squat:
Barbell hip thrusts are the best isolation exercise to go incredibly heavy on. They're also unique because they're one of the only movements where the barbell is placed directly on a joint.
Thanks to the load placement, hip thrusts are basically one big ass (pun intended) hip extension for the glutes, meaning many consider it the best exercise for overall glute development. Therefore, it should be on any top list of glute exercises.
Still, when you perform hip thrusts, you'll also get some insane muscle activation in the hamstrings. As such, the barbell hip thrust builds serious muscle mass on your posterior, and it should be in every program designed to build strong glutes and hamstrings.
How to do the Barbell Hip Thrust:
If you want more hamstring activation, pretend you're pulling the ground toward you. This will simulate the leg curl and destroy your hamstrings with an isometric contraction.
Ouch. There's something about lunges that make the glutes and hamstrings burn.
They work all of the muscle groups in the lower body and are infamous for killing the glutes. Further, they're one of the few exercises performed in motion. As a result, they also have the unique benefits of improving balance and mobility.
Also, a great lunge variation for your backside is walking lunges. Everything is the same until your back knee touches the ground. From there, instead of pushing backward, you'll pull yourself forward as if you were walking. This pulling motion causes many people to feel these in their glutes more.
How to do Lunges:
When looking for the best glute and ham exercise, we should look at the exercise literally named the glute ham raise.
Despite its name, if you don't set the machine up correctly, you'll actually target the lower back. While you can train back with this machine, that's now what we're here for in this article. Regardless, this simple machine is a crazy effective method of training these muscles using just your body weight.
How to do the Glute Ham Raise:
If your gym doesn't have a glute ham raise, don't worry. We've got you covered! Check out the 7 Best GHD Machines For Home Gyms, and you won't have to worry about missing a day.
If you've ever used these, then you know the real work of the glutes and hamstrings.
They're one of the few machine exercises (along with seated leg curls) we routinely prescribe, as they work! It's a simple machine that uses basic biomechanics to target the hamstring muscles and glutes.
How to do the Lying Leg Curl Machine:
The Nordic hamstring curl is a brutal exercise that takes advantage of the eccentric contraction we discussed above. Further, all it uses is your body weight, making this unassuming exercise brutal.
Gaining popularity in the fitness world, it's been used in rehab and sports performance settings for years. In this setting, it's predominantly used as an injury prevention tool.
But that's because it's excellent at eccentrically loading your hamstrings, and as we mentioned above, eccentric contraction creates muscle gain. That also makes it one of the best hamstring exercises, so it's gaining popularity with the general public.
How to do the Nordic Hamstring Curl:
These are seriously tough, and watch out for DOMs in the AM! If you can already knock out many of these, congratulations, you don't need this article!
Strengthening the glutes and hamstrings is imperative for both performance and function. You've probably heard of the posterior chain, a term for a string of muscles that run down your posterior, forming a chain.
A few of the vital functions these muscles are in charge of include:
Weak glutes and hamstrings can act like a chain reaction in which various injuries can occur due to their multiple roles. These muscle groups MUST be adequately developed for optimal health and performance.
Any lingering questions about exercises for glutes and hamstrings? Let's discuss!
If you have a set of dumbbells or a barbell, do some of the above exercises! If not, you'll want to check out our article The Best Glutes Workout At Home for a comprehensive training plan.
Consistent training along with proper fuel is the best way to build any muscle, so aim to hit your glutes for at least 10 sets per week and get adequate protein.
The best results will come from overload with enough time to recover. Divide your 10+ sets over 2-4 training sessions per week, based on your schedule and how much you can realistically manage.
You should train your glutes along with the rest of your leg day, especially since most of the exercises that work best train both your glutes and hamstrings.
I reviewed the best glute and hamstring exercises to annihilate your posterior leg muscles. You could cycle through 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps of those exercises alone to build an impressive posterior.
As you can see, most of them are relatively well known, so if you're not doing them, start. If you are doing them already, concentrate on form to isolate the intended muscles to a greater degree, or explore our other glute isolation exercises for a change.
Looking for a great workout that builds muscle in the entire lower body? Check out The Ultimate Leg Workout For Strength & Mass!
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