Leg day is always going to be intense. If you’re doing it right, every time you work your lower body, you’ll be hitting multiple muscle groups — including your hamstrings. Targeting your hamstrings specifically will work wonders if you’re looking to maximize your deadlift strength or lower body muscle mass.
The big lower body movements like deadlifts and squats both recruit your hamstrings and will help make them stronger. Working hamstring-specific moves into your lower body training can improve your main lifts, build muscle, and can help make you more resilient against hamstring strain and other injuries.
In this article, you’ll learn why you should be training your hamstrings, how to warm up the backs of your legs, and use your current goals to create the best hamstring workouts for yourself.
Best Hamstring Workouts
- Best Hamstring Workout For Strength
- Best Hamstring Workout For Mass
- Best Bodyweight Hamstring Workout
- Best Hamstring Workout For Beginners
- Best Hamstring Workout For Mobility
While you probably won’t be performing Romanian deadlifts to test your max strength, training your hamstrings can still make you a lot stronger. Even if your primary training goal is to improve your 1RM, isolating your hamstrings has a lot of carryover potential into your big lifts.
Implement this hamstring workout after squatting if you want to keep it to one leg day per week. Or, if you’re emphasizing your quads on your first leg day of the week, you can program these moves on your lower body pull day. If that’s the case, consider these accessory moves after deadlifting.
On the other hand, if you want this workout to stand alone, you can go a little heavier on Romanian deadlifts and treat it like your primary lift of the day.
- Romanian Deadlift:3 x 6 – 8
- Dumbbell Good Morning: 3 x 8
- Lying Leg Curl: 3 x 10
- Single-Leg Stability Ball Curl: 3 x 12 per side
For dialing in your hamstring strength, focus on a tight and controlled eccentric portion with a rapid, explosive change of direction at the end of your range of motion.
They might not be as glamorous as teardrop quads, but having big hamstrings can be an important part of lower body hypertrophy. If your goal is to build a big lower body, keeping your strength and muscle balance as even as possible will help ensure healthy development.
You can perform this workout after you hit the big barbell lifts, or on its own dedicated day. Your choice will depend on what kind of training split you’re working with and how exclusively you want to focus on your hamstrings.
- Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 12 per side
- Glute-Ham Raise: 3 x 12
- Lying Leg Curl: 3 x 15
- Kettlebell Swing: 3 x 30 seconds
It might feel a little awkward to train your hamstrings with just your bodyweight, especially if balance isn’t your strong suit. That can actually be a good incentive to try something new and introduce a novel stimulus to your body. Working with your bodyweight will improve your kinesthetic awareness and get you better at balance while also strengthening your hamstrings.
Start by performing this workout once or twice a week, depending on your goals and the quality of your recovery. If these moves don’t feel too taxing, you can integrate this workout into your program up to three times a week. Making it part of your warmup can be especially beneficial.
- Glute-Ham Raise: 3 x 15
- Nordic Ham Curl: 3 x 15
- Single-Leg Stability Ball Curl: 3 x 12 per side
- Hamstring Slides: 3 x 15
- Hip Airplanes: 3 x 15 per side
To keep intensity high and create as much of a stimulus as possible, going extra slow on the eccentric portion is wise. The extra time under tension from slowing down your reps can help make up for the lack of external load.
Even if you’re just starting out in strength sports, you can still train your hamstrings specifically. As long as you’re prioritizing your recovery and warming up well before training, hamstring workouts can help form the habit of focusing on your posterior chain.
Folks new to the gym tend to make the mistake of focusing on the muscles they can see in the front of their bodies rather than the back. Intentionally working on your hamstrings, especially when you’re new to strength training, can help you ensure that you develop a balanced, aesthetically-pleasing physique long-term.
Perform this workout once or twice a week, depending on how well your body is responding to the training. If you’re finding it difficult to recover after sessions, it’s okay to keep this to once per week. Rest between 90 seconds and three minutes between sets, and make sure you’re thoroughly warmed up before starting.
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts: 3 x 10
- Reverse Hyperextension: 3 x 10 – 12
- Machine Leg Curl: 3 x 15
- Hamstring Slides: 3 x 15
Training to improve your hamstring mobility takes more than some gym class drills. There’s no need to round your back and touch your toes for minutes on end to make your hamstrings more mobile. Instead, focus on extending and strengthening your end range of motion with workouts like this.
Keep the weighted movements relatively light. Instead, the point here is to practice perfect form — move slowly and deliberately. That’s a practice you should always have to maximize your gains, but it’s important when focusing on mobility, too.
If hamstring mobility is an especially urgent goal for you, you can perform this twice a week. It doesn’t have to be a standalone workout if that doesn’t feel good for you. Try integrating this workout into active recovery days, or even as your lower body warm-up.
- Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 12
- Single-Leg Stability Ball Curl: 3 x 12
- Kettlebell Swing: 3 x 20
- World’s Greatest Stretch: 3 x 6 per side
- Stiff-Legged Inchworm: 3 x 10
Research suggests that mixing some controlled, eccentric-focused exercises with traditional stretching is as good as or better than a long-duration stretch routine. (1) If you’re crunched for time but still want to get nimble, including both into your training regime is probably a good idea.
Anatomy of the Hamstrings
The hamstrings are one of the largest muscles in the lower body and provide a critical role in both support and performance for nearly every leg exercise you do in the gym.
While the muscular compartment is comprised of four distinct tissues — the biceps femoris, with two heads, the semitendinosus, and semimembranosus — for practical purposes, all parts perform mostly the same functions in the gym.
The hamstrings help to flex or bend the knee, extend or straighten the hip, and actually have a crucial role in the mechanics of both running and sprinting. Since they are biarticular, meaning they cross both the knee and hip joint, the hamstrings tend to have either an assistive or direct role in all leg training.
Benefits Of Hamstring Workouts
Regardless of your lower body goals, hamstring workouts are going to be able to help you. Focusing on your hamstrings can augment your deadlift, squat, and help you be more resilient against injury. (2) When you’re able to lift heavier and move better, you’ll become a better athlete overall.
Improve Pulling Strength
The stronger your hamstrings are, the better you’ll be able to execute heavy pulls. With well-developed hamstrings, you won’t need to worry so much about overcompensating with your low back, glutes, or quads when deadlifting your hardest.
Even if pulls aren’t your favorite kind of lift, remember how huge compound movement deadlifts are for your entire body. Deadlift strength carries over into pretty much all aspects of your athleticism, including and especially the strength of other lifts.
Reduce Sticking Points
Struggling to lock out your deadlift? Your hamstrings could need some work. Working hard at your deficit deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts — manipulating your range of motion to really tax the hammies — can make you a lot more successful on the platform.
You might think “deadlifts” when you think of your hamstrings, and you’re right — they are a big mover in that pull. But strong back squats require strong hamstrings, too. If you’ve hit a squat plateau and have been focusing on your quads as a way to help, try honing in on your hammies. You might just find that they’re an invisible weak point in your squat.
Take Stress Off Your Low Back
Your hamstrings are directly connected to your back via your pelvis. When your hamstrings are weak or tight — think sitting at your desk all day — they can contribute to a series of issues that might lead to low back pain. (3)
The more intentional you are about improving your hamstring strength and flexibility, the more they’ll be able to support your low back. Your knees, too, may feel better when they’re supported by your hamstrings can help handle the daily pressures of sitting, standing, and moving around.
Targeting your hamstrings for hypertrophy might not be the first thing on your lower body muscle growth to-do list. But growing your hamstrings can go a long way toward giving you a well-rounded physique.
Still more interested in developing those teardrop quads than building up your hamstrings? Here’s some good motivation for you: the bigger you can make your hamstrings, the more they’ll be able to support your other muscle growth goals. Improving your hamstrings will only benefit lifts that can make the rest of your legs more muscular — it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
How To Program Hamstring Workouts
Folks who tend to program push-pull training splits may already be very familiar with programming hamstring-focused workouts, since you target your hamstrings with lower body pulls — for example, deadlifts of all kinds and hamstring curls.
If you’re looking to spend a training cycle targeting your hamstrings specifically for growth or strength, a four-day push-pull split can be helpful. A split like this will feature two push days (one upper body and one lower body) and two pull days (one upper body and one lower body). You would therefore specifically target your hamstrings once a week, on lower body pull day.
You may also opt for a more body part or muscle group-oriented split. In that case, you’ll still probably want to stick to programming hamstring work once a week — twice if your recovery is dialed in or you’re an experienced lifter. Deadlifts and other heavy pulls can be extremely taxing on your body, so recovery is key.
How to Warm Up Your Hamstrings
Make sure you warm up thoroughly before training your hamstrings. Swinging your legs back and forth a few times before you deadlift just won’t cut it if you want to lift your best while building resilience against injury.
If you’re training your legs more generally — even if you’re focusing on your quads — warming up your hamstrings helps your body work as one unit. That synchronicity should boost movement security and improve performance at the same time.
Best Hamstring Warm-Up
- World’s Greatest Stretch: 3 x 5 per side
- Supine Leg Extension: 3 x 10 per side
- Hip Airplane: 3 x 12 per side
- Lateral Lunges: 3 x 12 per side
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts: 3 x 10 per side with very light weight
- Jumping Lunges: 3 x 10 per side
Some of the most important muscles in your body can’t be seen in the mirror. Your rear delts solidify your shoulders and your lower back is your performance pillar — but the hamstrings are the bedrock of all lower-body training.
Hamstring-specific movements are an excellent addition to any leg day. They’re also great for developing your lower body and improving overall pulling strength. Whether you’re looking to grow your hammies specifically, become a better deadlifter, or become a more powerful athlete, hamstring exercises have got your back.
- Nelson, R. T., & Bandy, W. D. (2004). Eccentric Training and Static Stretching Improve Hamstring Flexibility of High School Males. Journal of athletic training, 39(3), 254–258.
- Wan, X., Li, S., Best, T. M., Liu, H., Li, H., & Yu, B. (2021). Effects of flexibility and strength training on peak hamstring musculotendinous strains during sprinting. Journal of sport and health science, 10(2), 222–229.
- Lee, J. H., & Kim, T. H. (2017). The treatment effect of hamstring stretching and nerve mobilization for patients with radicular lower back pain. Journal of physical therapy science, 29(9), 1578–1582.
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